Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Mara is Blooming With Babies!

As we ring in the new year here in the Mara, we thought that with it would bring the end of the “short rains.” Well, we were wrong. However, despite all of the unfortunate weather, the new year has brought many new things; small, little furry things to be exact. The Mara is blooming with babies!

It seems that every herd, pride and clan has made some new additions. Nearly all the female topis are now accompanied by a small calf, skipping through the grass without a care in the world and wandering maybe a little bit too far from mom. The lionesses are preoccupied with their new cubs who seem to be curious about every foreign object that eventually becomes the coolest new toy. Apparently rocks make for the best ones! The elephant herds are all on guard over their new calves who, with little trunks held high in the air, are figuring out how their strange noses work. Even the last of the zebras that are left in the Mara have a youngster or two to look after.

However, we must give credit where credit is due, and the moms that seem to have the most on their plate right now are our hyenas, of course. The female hyenas’ patience is at an all time high as 10 new cubs run around the den at top speeds, toppling over each other and falling into hidden den holes. Sometimes the moms even become temporary trampolines when the cubs decide to stand on top of them in order obtain better leverage for their sneak attack on their sibling. Often times, the parade of cubs zooming around the den can get a little carried away and venture too far from mom’s sight, disappearing into the tall grass. It's then that poor momma hyena has to get up from her nap, gather all the cubs, and march them back to the safety of the den. We definitely don’t give hyena mothers enough credit in the animal kingdom, but after watching a cub lick and chew on his mother’s face for 15 minutes while she tried so hard to finally get some sleep, there is now no question who wins the award for mother of the year.

Visiting the dens have become what I look forward to most of all since arriving in the Mara. The sight of so many new babies running and playing, much like my puppies at home would do, has been the highlight of my time here so far. I cannot wait to watch these little cubs grow into some of the most successful predators in the Mara. Once they grow into their clumsy big paws of course!

Spirit always seems to be caught in the middle of an unwanted hyena cub pile.

YAM cuddles up to mom, Alfredo, who is still trying to get some beauty sleep amongst all the cub chaos.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


The rain has decreased and we’ve finally gotten to go on obs and see the hyenas more regularly. South clan, the one I started studying first because it was supposed to be easy, has been going wild nearly every obs. Male hyenas typically leave their natal clans and emigrate to new clan as sub-adults and apparently South territory is really attractive. At least 9 alien males are present in the territory and we see 7 regularly interact with clan members. Three of these aliens, KNG, GOLI, and TBMN are males from Happy Zebra, and one, MOMO is from North.

We also see a new hyena there just about every other obs. RANG, an adult female with a mangled right ear who hasn’t been seen since November 2018, showed up to the den. Last obs we saw her nursing two teeny tiny black cubs. It is very exciting but also challenging, especially since all the hyenas like walk arriving to the den from every direction as soon as it gets dark. Then they all run around like mad. I keep my camera filming so I can get behaviors and ID’s for hyenas I don't know back in camp. While challenging, the chaos has been really good for my ID skills because I see each hyena multiple times each obs in a different situation and from different angles.

South is also really cool because there is a ton of game around the den and I got to see a hyena-zebra interaction. The zebra didn't appreciate the hyena approaching so it squared up. The hyena wisely changed course. We also saw my first Mara rhino there!

North and Happy Zebra have both been pretty sleepy lately, but the Northies make up for it by visiting us in camp at night and serenading us.

Besides the rhino we’ve seen some other cool things including a python and a spotted eagle-owl.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Wild Wild Holiday

Happy New Year and Welcome to a new decade! 2020 has already been quite exciting, and maybe not in the way we'd all hoped, so I'm here to renew our 2019 naive holiday cheer! This is the holidays in the Mara.

Needless to say, here at Fisi Camp we are pretty bad at remembering to get into the holiday spirit. In fact, through much of December we were stuck in camp thanks to an "enhanced" short rains season, so our morale was pretty low. But it wasn't all a loss. Matthew and I are now very good at the card games Uno and Memory so, you know, who's the real winner here.

The Mara. The Mara definitely won this round. But I did have something else to look forward to, my parents and little brother flew all the way over to visit, and it is always refreshing to remember that the Mara is a pretty awesome place (which you can forget when you haven't actually seen the Mara in a few weeks thanks to a very angry sky). According to them, the best part of their Mara experience was actually playing Uno with Matthew and myself, so perhaps our aptitude for childhood card games is a positive rather than a negative!

They would like you all to know that they were amazed by the amount of elephants in the Mara Triangle and adored having 2 cheetahs walk in front of the car. All in all, it was wonderful having my family visit. Especially because it came with snacks!

My mom, per my begging, brought me a plethora of Trader Joe's goodies! From chocolate covered marshmallows to Greek yogurt cookie sandwiches, I felt absolutely spoiled. And yes, they are all delicious.

It's so fun showing people around the Mara when they've never seen anything like it. It's a wonderful way to be reminded of how unique this environment is and how lucky I am to live here. Of course, seeing my family over the holidays was wonderful, and it goes without saying that holidays are some of the times people get most homesick, so bringing some of home to my temporary home was the easiest cure for that.

My year in the Mara is coming to a close (sad!) but it isn't ending without a bang! We have new cubs and we even found teeny cubs with my family in the car, they must be a good luck charm. We also have quite a few hyenas immigrating into our South Clan, so things are definitely heating up here in the Mara. I have to believe having visitors kick-started it all.

Happy 2020 everybody! Welcome to a new decade, and may it be filled with hyena babies. 😁

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science