Thursday, November 21, 2019

MVPs of the Month!

Welcome to the latest edition of MVP of the Month! To honor the tremendous amount of work that spotted hyena mothers invest into their offspring, this special edition will focus on some of our best moms (well, kinda...).

Happy Zebra Clan: Coelacanth (COEL)!
COEL was not impressed when she found out that Lila and I marked her as missing.
Happy Zebra is currently in the middle of a cub boom (we have at least 8 little black cubs running around right now!), making this month’s MVP competition incredibly tough. Nonetheless, I’d like to introduce you to this month’s super mom: COEL (Coelacanth)! In fact, Lila and I only met COEL for the first time about a month ago. Since we generally don’t find the bodies of dead hyenas, we mark hyenas that have not been seen in over 6 months as missing/dead. As neither Lila nor I had met COEL by the time our quarterly report in October rolled around, she was automatically marked as missing. After carefully removing her from the clan list, deleting her name from our month-by-month demography spreadsheet, and taking her pictures out of all of our ID binders, however, COEL decided to make a come-back.

One night, Lila and I were surprised to see a mother that neither one of us recognized (slight humble brag, but at this point, both Lila and I are able to ID almost all of our ~180 study hyenas!) when we rolled up to the communal den. Even better? She was nursing two little cubs that were less than a month old – too cute!! Although we were unable to confirm for certain that this mom was COEL (as our ID binders no longer contained her pictures), we both knew deep-down inside that it was her and started thinking of cute cub names that would fit her lineage (geologic time periods). Of course, as soon as we got back to camp, we took out our missing/dead ID binder to confirm. And so, with little OLI (Oligocene) and DEVN (Devonian) by her side, COEL’s come-back truly puts her as the top candidate for the mother’s edition of MVP of the month!

South Clan: Silver Nugget (SNUG)!
As an experienced mother, SNUG knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day! (PC: Lila, Serena's top wildlife photographer)
If you regularly follow this blog post, you already know that SNUG (Silver Nugget) is one awesome mom! Just last month, Lila and I witnessed her successfully hunting a baby topi for her two cubs, MPRS (Empress Cicada) and SASS (Assassin Bug). Spotted hyenas usually take a long time to fully develop their jaws/bite strength, giving cubs a big disadvantage when it comes to feeding on carcasses with lots of other hyenas around. SNUG, however, made sure that none of the other hyenas present (including some relatively high rankers) even got close to the baby topi while MPRS and SASS slowly took it apart (quick fun fact: this feeding disadvantage for cubs is actually one of the hypothesized reasons for why females are dominant: females help their cubs gain access to kills; males don’t).

Another reason why I think SNUG deserves MVP? I suspect that she may be the new matriarch of South Clan! When JAVA (Java), the former matriarch, died, the whole clan seemed to be falling apart. Former RAs saw both of her daughters, KAPU (Kapuas River) and TOBA (Lake Toba), looking rather beat-up while they were wandering around the territory (generally, one of the matriarch’s daughters will take over as matriarch if anything happens). Since then, South clan became incredibly elusive, especially once the communal den was lost. During my first month out here, I only saw one hyena in the entire territory (HONR, Honor Harrington)!

However, now that Lila and I have found the communal den again, we’ve been able to observe a lot of aggressions/appeasements/general interactions between different clan members, allowing us to slowly piece together the new social dominance hierarchy. Of course, this is incredibly difficult to observe in the field and will likely take a few more months to completely figure out. Nonetheless, neither Lila nor I have seen SNUG being aggressed onto by other hyenas, which could indicate that she may potentially be the matriarch! Stay tuned for more details, but for now, SNUG definitely deserves to be MVP.

North Clan: Clam Chowder (CHOW)!
Ever feel like your parents like your little sibling more than you (shout-out to my older brothers who know the feeling!)? CHOW can relate.
With SOUP (current matriarch), WAFL (Waffles; former matriarch), and JUDE (Hey Jude; unfortunately nowhere close to being matriarch) all raising cubs at the communal den right now, any three of these moms could have easily gotten the title this month. Confession? I planned to give JUDE the title. Until CHOW (Clam Chowder) came along!

Earlier this month, I pulled up to the communal den at 5:36 in the morning to find the entire royal family present: SOUP and her two new cubs were to be expected. However; CHOW and her sister LOBI (Lobster Bisque), SOUP’s older cubs, were there as well. As were the remains of what was possibly a warthog at one point – it was impossible to tell by the time I arrived at the crime scene.

SOUP, truly deserving of the title this month, likely brought back some carcass scraps to the den for her little cubs: SQSH (Squash Bisque) and DASH (Dashi Soup). Throughout the entire session, the two little ones were feeding on the carcass while SOUP aggressed onto anybody who came close to her cubs or the carcass, including LOBI and CHOW. What makes her a great mother, however, was also her greatest downfall. At one point, DISC (Discovery Channel), a mid-ranking subadult, carefully approached the carcass. SOUP was not having any of it! She quickly got up and lunged at DISC, leaving the carcass, and her cubs, unprotected for a split second. CHOW seized the chance!

As the lowest ranker of the family (no need to feel bad, she is still ranked #5 in the entire clan!), it seems like SOUP has all but forgotten about her when SQSH and DASH came along. While SOUP was preoccupied with DISC, CHOW swept in, stole the carcass, and quickly ran away from the den with it! For a minute, it seemed like SOUP would reclaim the carcass, chasing and lunging at CHOW. At this point, CHOW was thoroughly freaked out: she started peeing everywhere while frantically running away from SOUP. Nonetheless, she successfully got away, loping towards the sunrise with her trophy! In the meantime, SOUP decided to merely sack out and spent the rest of the morning relaxing at the den. CHOW is one sneaky hyena, and I love it! So sneaky in fact, that she managed to steal the MVP title from not one, not two, but three deserving North clan moms during this special mom edition. 

BONUS: Top November Sightings!
"Uhm, excuse me... you're looking the wrong way???"

Do cheetahs like belly rubs? Asking for a friend...

This baby rhino was born on October 20th, and brings the total rhino population in the Mara Triangle to 10.

Love is in the air!

Lila is slowly turning into an amateur birder, and she's dragging me along with her...

Morning cuddles with mom <3

Just a reminder that hippos are dangerous!

This is little black-backed jackal is almost fully grown. They grow up so fast!

Meet Gremlin, the dwarf mongoose without a tail that loves to visit us in camp. This is the closest we've come to having a pet.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for another witty, educational blog post. It is always a pleasure to read your articles and admire the pictures.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science