Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Maji Mengi

I’m Matthew, Serena’s freshest RA, and this past year has been characterized by “enhanced” precipitation. Maji mengi, water, lots of it. I spent the spring in Missouri collaring and tracking neonate whitetail deer. Severe storms turned dry fields into ten foot deep lakes, gouged massive cuts through roads, made travel difficult for us, and life dangerous for the fawns. During the summer I assisted a graduate student with her mallard tagging project in the Dakotas. All the water left on the landscape from spring and summer rains widely dispersed the ducks making them difficult to even find let alone capture. While I was working in North Central Minnesota this fall, the area received near record amounts of rainfall and caused widespread flooding. Finally, on November 21st, I arrived at Serena camp and, behold, rain. In my first week we received 185 mm (or about 7 inches) of rain.

Right now, there are a couple of road crossings that have enough water to conceal hippos and lots of sheet water. The sheet water has been lovely for viewing wetland birds with hottentot teal and spur-winged geese being the highlights. Anyway, for most field jobs, storms are annoying, it means the tracks you drove down before you now have to walk. Walking in the Mara is somewhat perilous and I don’t think the hyenas would appreciate it if we hoofed it up to them. Therefore, we have spent the majority of the time we would normally be doing obs, stuck in camp.

It has not been a waste of time though. My expert co-RA’s Lila and Jana set me up with a bank of photos of each of our hyenas and created some quizzes for me to practice on. I’ve focused mainly on learning South clan which is our smallest clan and least overwhelming. It was extremely rewarding to recognize a few of our hyenas the last time we visited the South den. I mostly study by looking at a photo of a hyena until a set of spots pop out at me. Then I go through our clan binders until I see that pattern again. It usually takes a few flips through the binder, and sometimes I have to abandon my original set of spots and find a new pattern. I also have been learning to drive the mighty land cruiser. I already know how to drive stick but having to shift with my left hand took a little getting used to, as does driving on the left side of the road. Another thing I have had the pleasure to learn is how we do fecal collection. We spotted one of our hyenas relieving herself away from the den. After she left, we drove over to collect the gift of DNA and hormones she laid in the grass. I hopped out of the cruiser naively expecting to see something roughly the size of a large dog’s droppings. I was incorrect. Turns out when hyenas go, they go big.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

In Memoriam

If you’re reading the title, you know what this is. About a month ago we found three sub-adult male lions sacked out not 30 meters from our South clan communal den. Unsurprisingly, that day most of the cubs were gone from the den, having been moved to a new location to avoid the lions. But not all of the cubs were gone. ECLP* and CROM* with their mother BLG* still hung around with the lions, sleepily watching from their spot. In fact, they hung around for a few days after we saw the lions. But that’s not what this is about.

This is about one cub, one cub that we have been looking for for the past month, to no avail: ZORX*. ZORX from the get go has been one of mine and Jana’s favorite cubs, always playful and mischievous, not to mention the owner of a pair of massive ears. In fact, when we first met the South cubs we nicknamed him Dobby because of those ears.
Now it goes without saying, we try not to play favorites, but it’s so hard when one cub (ZORX) is just too cute to ignore! Just check out this expression as he’s playing with NOBL*, a cub he regularly hung out with.

He also had some of the prettiest spots we’ve ever seen, and he loved to pose for us too!

What a beauty!

But now we haven’t seen him in a month, ever since the lions showed up. His mom has nursed his sibling JOJO* multiple times at the new den, but no sign of ZORX. :(
How can you not love such an adorable sleepy face?

I mean...look at that face! Those ears!

I think his naps were my favorite.
We even went back to the den where the lions were to scope out the situation, and found hairballs at the den to our great dismay. Although we haven’t found a body to confirm ZORX’s disappearance, we know the truth in our hearts.

So curious!


However, one of our cubs at our North clan den, CAKE*, went missing for a month only to show up just over a week ago, so there’s still hope!

We can only hope.

*Full Names: Eclipse (ECLP), California Chrome (CROM), Bellagio (BLG), The Zorax (ZORX), Donna Noble (NOBL), Jojo McDodd (JOJO), Cakehole (CAKE)

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science