Wednesday, April 7, 2021

North Cubs!

Hi all,

One of the best parts of this job is the opportunity to get to know the individual hyenas. Since we spend a lot of time at the communal dens, we get to see the different personalities of all the cubs – and after a while, we also get to know the moms, subadults, and males within each clan. There are even a couple of hyenas in each clan that we can identify based on their ~vibes~. Of course, “vibes” are not very scientific so we always confirm IDs with spot patterns, but 99.9% of the time, the lone male standing 30m away from the communal den in Happy Zebra, staring wistfully at all the cubs he could potentially befriend if females weren’t so scary is NYC, the old lady sleeping without a care in the world for the entire obs session at the North den is WAFL, and the stocky mom excitedly approaching the car in South is SAMI. Since I only have the North communal den right now, I wanted to share some of the personalities in the current cohort of cubs:

SAMI saying hi to the hyena research team (aka me) this morning!

ARIA – Bulgaria, daughter of CHOW (Clam Chowder)

ARIA’s unofficial cub name was Trouble – for a reason. Within five minutes of pulling up to the communal den on my first day back in the Mara, ARIA was already chewing on the Cruiser. The other cubs were still looking around vigilantly, ready to dive into the den hole at any moment in case of danger. She also loves the saliva stick (we collect saliva from cubs for DNA and hormone analysis) and wouldn’t let any of the other cubs near it at the beginning. However, although ARIA is the biggest and highest-ranking cub at the den, she has been behaving rather submissively over the past couple of weeks. CHOW always interferes on her behalf if one of the lower ranking cubs or mothers aggresses onto her, but when CHOW is not at the den, even little FIVE will successfully aggress onto her. Quite strange!

LIZ – Dr. Liz Wilson, daughter of GARF (Garfield)

LIZ is GARF’s first cub and she’s a little spoiled in the motherhood department. Not only is GARF at the den most of the time, but her aunt MUTT also loves to stop by to hang out with her (although MUTT can get a little pesky at times, especially when she wants to play with LIZ while LIZ is trying to nurse). Personality wise, LIZ is one of the more cautious cubs at the den – I pulled up to the den a few weeks ago, and her right ear had a big tear in it (no worries, GARF fussed over her all night to ensure that she was okay and the tear is healing nicely). Since then, she’s been sticking a little closer to the den hole and her mom than the other cubs.

JARO – Jaro, daughter of JUDE (Hey Jude)

JARO is cheeky! JUDE is honestly one of my favorite moms in North – she did a great job with RBYE and AVIV last year (two of my favorites from their cohort) and JARO is always plump. Nonetheless, JARO takes any chance she can get and will try to nurse from GARF as often as possible. Usually GARF will aggress onto her within a second or two, but sometimes she can nurse for 10+ seconds before GARF realizes that it’s her and not LIZ nursing. JARO also loves the saliva stick and is content chewing on the rope for 20-30 minutes at a time (we usually hope that cubs will chew on it for 1-2 minutes so that we get enough saliva).

LBRA – The Body in the Library, son of CLEV (Clever Girl)

LBRA is the dominant cub in CLEV’s current litter. As one of the lower ranking moms in the clan, it seems like CLEV doesn’t like to spend a lot of time at the den. The other moms will usually aggress onto her when she shows up, so she rarely does. However, this means that her cubs are struggling. Even when CLEV is at the den, she’ll stand around or sit at an awkward angle, meaning that LBRA and FIVE have to nurse while standing or wriggle their way towards CLEV’s nipples.

FIVE – Five Little Pigs, daughter of CLEV (Clever Girl)

FIVE – poor, little FIVE! I love to root for an underdog, and FIVE is definitely one of them. As the dominant cub, LBRA still manages to nurse enough to grow bigger. At this point, however, FIVE is smaller than FOXE (Waffles’ cub who is two months younger than her). It’s not uncommon for the submissive cub to be smaller than the dominant cub (ARGO and NAUT in Happy Zebra and BCKT and GOOB in North also had very considerable size differences last year) and FIVE may still make it to adulthood. She does strike me as a survivor as she has a streak of feistiness in her – I’ve seen her aggress onto ARIA quite a few times. Best of luck, little one!

Your weekly dose of the Mara:

Still lots of lion sightings!

A jackal surveying his freshly burned home.

Munch munch.

A European Roller - I think??? Lila and Matthew were the birders....

Right before a baboon chased it away!

Have I mentioned that there are a lot of lion sightings right now?

GAZR doing what males do best: awkwardly standing at the edge of the communal den.

Last night's sunset over Happy Zebra territory.

Bat-eared foxes always look either incredibly goofy or incredibly grumpy.

A rare sighting of a serval that's not completely hidden in the tall grass.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

World’s Biggest Sour Patch Kid

Hi all, 

There are many words to describe the Mara: magical, breathtaking, stunning, a photographer’s paradise… However, after living in the Mara for almost a year, I’ve started to view her as a sour patch kid: first she’s sour, then she’s sweet. For example, last year, I got our Cruiser stuck in a hole while I was alone in camp… Lila was getting much-needed supplies in Nairobi, Geemi (who usually helps us out) was at home for the week, and Lerijin (our mechanic who we call if we’re *really* stuck) was busy. Yikes! I spent the next hour digging the Cruiser out on my own. A sour morning indeed. But then the Mara dialed up her sweetness: less than 20 minutes after finally freeing the Cruiser, I came across these two cheetahs:

A solo sighting of cheetahs - before the pandemic, it was rare to see predators without a bunch of tour cars around.

Although I’m incredibly grateful to be back out here with the hyenas, last week was pretty challenging. I spent hour after hour off-roading through our South and Happy Zebra territories, navigating out of too many rock fields and nearly getting stuck in mud multiple times, with no luck. The enhanced rains, followed by lots of sunshine, followed by even more rain means that the grass is at an all-time high. Not only does the grass hide damaging rocks, buffalo wallows, swamps, den holes, etc, it also hides all of our hyenas. A good obs session meant that I had seen a single hyena that day. Very disappointing! However, the Mara finally turned her sweetness back on… a big buffalo carcass with 32 of our North hyenas, lion sightings galore, and even a hyena cub in South. So, without further ado, please enjoy these incredible sightings the Mara has given me in the past few days to make up for a bad week:

Two leopards! I've seen 4 different leopards since returning to the Mara, even though they're generally very elusive. And yes, this is the best leopard picture I have (blame the tall grass).

BORN and BANG, two of our North males, run off together with a buffalo leg. Could this be the start of a "bro-mance"?

This scavenger chased the Northies away from the buffalo carcass.

Spotted while on a game drive with Brian, the Conservancy manager. He knows that we try to keep our distance from elephants (I'd rather not get chased by an angry bull!), so he always tries to get us as close as possible to them.

MUTT showing off her perfect hyena posture. She has been spending *a lot* of time at the communal den with her older sister GARF and niece LIZ.

A sleepy scavenger.

Waffles' new cubs are starting to explore the den! Their favorite hobbies include playing on top of Waffles, sleeping on top of Waffles, sitting on top of Waffles, and walking on top of Waffles.

I stumbled upon a puddle of six lion cubs - super adorable!

Another shot from my morning with the lion cubs.

HONR and her cub, CAPE! Lila and I gave HONR her lineage last year: types of pasta.

*Actual hyena names: BORN – Borneo (North); BANG – Palembang (North); MUTT – Mutts (North); GARF – Garfield (North); LIZ – Dr. Liz Wilson (North); HONR – Honor Harrington (South); CAPE – Capellini (South)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

An Ode to Happy Zebra

Hi all!

After unsuccessfully den hunting in Happy Zebra for the past few weeks, I’ve decided to call in for back-up. Lila, former Serena Superstar RA, was happy to oblige! Back in July 2019, the two of us set out on a mission to find the South communal den – after more than a year without their den. On July 24th, Lila posted this lovely ode about our most elusive clan at the time; and lo and behold we found their den the very next day! Since I've only seen 4 Happy Zebra hyenas so far, I knew it was time for another ode to work its magic:

My old friends, my OGs

Don’t you know how much we love thee?

You’re the first ones I met

And my first loves, you can bet


So many of you gone

And the rest nowhere to be found

The grass is so tall

And you are never around


Where are you friends?

We miss you so

PIKE* and RING are gone

But there are so many we long to know


You have new cubs

Of that I hope

That you haven’t fallen

You’re too strong

Too whole


Please come back

And give us the tea

Let us back in

We just want to see thee


Now it’s been so long

And I am sadly gone,

But the other superstar is here,

Jana’s just waiting for you to reappear!


PIKA and TRIO, a duo to reckon with

Where are you hiding?

Have you gone Timid**?

Speaking of Timid, SPCE how we miss you

You’re forever a favorite, but you knew that didn’t you


So many of you are missing

Waiting to be revived,

Please show us your ways

Uncover your deep disguise!


So HZ, the OGs,

Oh how we miss you,

Jana is waiting,

You just need to come through

-Lila Afifi, former Superstar RA, Serena’s premier wildlife photographer, poet.

*Actual hyena names: PIKE – Pike; RING – Molly Ringwald; PIKA – Pikaia; TRIO – Trilobite; SPCE – MySpace

**Timid was the cub name we originally gave SPCE – these cub names are used to refer to new individuals before we confirm nursing and can officially name them according to their mother’s lineage

Since I don’t have any interesting pictures of our Happy Zebrans at the moment, please enjoy these pictures of sleepy GARF (Garfield) truly living her best life at the North communal den the other night:

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Jambo from Kenya: Part 2!

Hi all,

I’m super excited to announce that I’m back in Serena Camp! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jana and I spent ten months in Serena with co-RAs Lila and Matthew before the pandemic hit (check out this blog post for my original introduction, and this one for Lila and I’s biggest achievement out here). During my time back in the States, I worked on a proposal for incorporating drones into biodiversity monitoring with the Nicholas Institute at Duke University and studied desert bighorn sheep in southern Nevada with the Wildlife Disease Lab at Utah State University, all while counting down the days until I could return to the Mara. After a few flight delays, countless Covid-19 tests, and a healthy dose of visa issues, my dream finally came true at the beginning of this month.

Because I’m the first RA back in Serena since last year, my main task has been finding the communal dens for all of our clans and figuring out who the new cubs belong to. North Clan, which has always been one of my top three favorite hyena clans out here, made it incredibly easy for me: they’re still denning at the same place they were at when we left back in March. And they have lots of new cubs! Most notably, former matriarch Waffles has two new little black cubs that are only ~3 weeks old. And no, she was not wearing her collar…

I also got very lucky with South Clan: my first night in the territory, I was randomly off-roading back to the main road when I came face-to-face with an older cub (KORS*, one of BSCT’s new cubs). I was so focused on getting back to the main road safely (all of our territories currently feature very, very, very tall grass and most of our previous tracks are completely overgrown/missing), that I didn’t even realize what I was looking at for a moment: South’s new communal den! This den is a lot smaller than North’s and I’ve only seen two new cubs so far (one belongs to HONR, one to DETH), so I think that there may be a second communal den somewhere else.

Happy Zebra Clan has been a little more difficult… I’ve only spent one full observation period in their territory where I made one, and unfortunately only one, discovery: most of our old tracks no longer exist. Since we confirmed former matriarch PIKE’s death back in May (the rangers found her body with substantial lion wounds and sent us pictures to ID her), Lila and I have been trying to guess who the new matriarch could be (we agree that LANC would be great, but EREM is also a strong competitor). Needless to say, I’m very excited to find their current den and piece together the new dominance hierarchy.

Stay tuned for more updates! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures from my first week back in Serena:

Waffles with one of her new cubs! Lila has been helping me name all of the new cubs, and we had a hard time finding names in Waffles lineage (names of syrups) that haven't already been used since Waffles has had *so* many cubs.


PLNT is almost old enough to become den-independent - luckily she nursed from her mom (RMON) in front of me, so I was able to confirm her lineage before she is weaned (at which point, it becomes a lot harder to determine who belongs to who).
Being a first-time mom can be challenging.... GARF is still trying to figure out how to nurse her little cub. Most moms just lie on their sides for easy access, but whatever floats your boat GARF.

I'm not a big fan of hippos (who is??), but look at how small this baby is!!!

*Actual hyena names: KORS – Kokoretsi (South); BSCT – Seabiscuit (South); HONR – Honor Harrington (South); DETH – Death Star (South); PIKE – Pike (Happy Zebra); LANC – Lance (Happy Zebra); EREM – Eremet (Happy Zebra); PLNT – Animal Planet (North); RMON – Ramone (North); GARF – Garfield (North)

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