Wednesday, July 28, 2021

It's the little things

Out here, we have a lot of time to appreciate the little things in life... a hot, indoor shower after 3.5 months of cold showers, the first post-supply trip breakfast with avocado toast, eggs, sausages, AND cheese, the first mile on a paved road after off-roading through the Maasai Mara for months at a time... After over a year out here, I can guarantee you that I will never take a hot shower for granted again.
After mainly focusing on the Big Five while my visitors were here, this week has been incredible for small predator sightings:
Does a hyena cub count as a small predator? Probably not, but I wanted to include this little guy anyways. After months of waiting, we're finally seeing black cubs at the communal dens again :) ROUG, from South, has two small cubs right now (COLR and PNCL) and LANC, from Happy Zebra, has one cub (LAVA). RUMG, from Happy Zebra, has also been spending a suspicious amount of time in/near the den hole, so I have been keeping a close eye on her in case a black head or two pops up out of the den. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a little baby boom: THLS and SAVY, both from Happy Zebra, and RANG, from South, could possibly have cubs as well. Both THLS and SAVY have been spending a lot of time at the den, groaning and pasting (scent-marking) throughout the obs sessions. We generally witness this type of behavior right before moms will bring their new cubs to the communal den. RANG showed up to the South communal den for the first time this year (that I’ve observed at least) last night with very prominent nipples, a good indicator that she may also be nursing right now.

*Full names: ROUG – Moulin Rouge; COLR – Lip Color; PNCL – Brow Pencil; LANC – Lance; LAVA – Laevatein; RUMG – Why is the Rum Gone; THLS – Toothless; SAVY – Savvy; RANG - Rangsang  

My visitors and I saw this serval pouncing around the grass in Happy Zebra territory earlier this week. We immediately stopped and turned off the car to quietly watch it successfully hunt a little mouse. Very fun!
This jackal was nice enough to carry a tired thomson’s gazelle around South territory yesterday morning. 
Another beautiful serval sighting in Happy Zebra territory this week – I tried to use my hyena IDing skills to see if this is the same serval as from above, but the spot patterns are different, so I’m assuming it’s another individual. Any serval experts out there?
Jackals have been providing a great taxi service out here lately – this one was carrying a coqui francolin around Happy Zebra territory over the weekend.
Banded mongooses often come through camp to forage on insects, so I’m always a little surprised when I see them with bigger prey.
Another successful mongoose from the same group as the one above.
Bonus: Puff Adder spotted on one of the main roads in Happy Zebra this morning – these are a lot cooler to see when they’re not hanging out right next to our toilet. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Fisi Visitors :)

Hi all,

Because we are working so far away from home for up to 12 months at a time, Kay encourages us to have family visit while we are here. Not only does this help them understand what our work is like, but it’s also a very welcome taste of home for us (often quite literally as they generally bring over some of our favorite snacks!). Plus, they often bring over supplies crucial to our research that we can’t get in Kenya. While here, they get to go out on obs with us, meet all of our hyenas, and experience the challenges (and rewards!) of work in a field station. For example, although the rainy season is technically over, I managed to find the only wet spot in all of Happy Zebra territory while my mother and her partner were visiting me last week and promptly got stuck! Not quite the experience I wanted to share with them, but now they know what the behind-the-scenes of hyena research looks like. A big thank-you to the kind rangers who helped us get the car free!

A visit to Fisi Camp involves lots of quality time with our cubs.

Of course, I still wanted to deliver on the Big Five (plus more), so here’s some of the incredible sightings I got to share with my visitors last week:

We got super lucky and saw this lion mating with another lioness.

Sunrise with these two beauties.

Probably the hardest of the Big Five to see, but luckily we had help from the rangers.

Buffalo seem to be doing really well this year - all the herds have lots of little calves.

The last of the Big Five - my mother's favorite, so we spent lots of time with elephants.

Not a part of the Big Five, but just as cool!

We watched this baby being born and taking its first steps.

The perfect resting spot for these birds.

Watching over his kingdom.

Elands are some of my favorite animals out here. Unfortunately, they are pretty shy.

Bad picture, great sighting.

Thomson's Gazelle.

The first wildebeest are beginning to move in :)

These cubs are growing up way too fast.

Lilac Breasted Roller during Golden Hour.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Happy Zebra Cubs!

Hi all,

Serena has been incredibly busy this month – the migration is slowly starting up, with the first batch of zebras starting to cross into the Triangle; my new coworker finally arrived to camp last week; and I have lots of visitors coming for the rest of the summer. Nonetheless, I wanted to share some exciting news with our devoted hyena followers: after ~4 months of extreme den hunting (rock fields, swamps, wallows, mud… you name it, I drove through it…), I finally found our Happy Zebra communal den!! So without further ado, please meet the current residents of Eyrie D2 (named in honor of the Mara Raptor Project, who helped me find our cubs):

BRRY - Charlotte de Berry; Mom: JLYR (Jolly Roger)
ANNE - Anne Bonny; Mom: JLYR (Jolly Roger)
PYXI - Pyxis; Mom: TULA (Tarantula)
SOLO - Song of Solomon; Mom: ANDO (Andor)
SARA - Black Assarca; Mom: OMLY (Grace O'Malley)
QUEN - Sequence; Mom: CSBY (Cosby)
ARCH - Archean; Mom: COEL (Coelacanth)

The Fight to Rule Them All – Matriarch Update!

Now that we have the communal den, we can finally observe more interactions, allowing us to slowly figure out who the new matriarch could be. EREM is officially disqualified (LANC and EREM were my original top contenders as both of them are high rankers who sustained intense ear damage while I was gone), making my new top choice JLYR! Although she has not aggressed onto a lot of other hyenas so far, her daughter, OMLY, is very feisty at the moment. If somebody’s starting a “fight” at the den, chances are OMLY’s involved.
Potential Matriarchs: Green - top contender; Orange - potential contender; Red - no longer in the race

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Serena Clan Updates

Hi all,

The Mara has been truly wild lately – crocodiles at the den, puff adders in camp, and leopard sightings galore! And of course, lots of hyena drama 😊

CAPE (Capellini) and I had a little photoshoot last week.

North Clan

JARO and LIZ causing mischief at the den while there was no adult supervision.

In my mind, North Clan has always been our “stable” clan – during my time out here, we’ve never truly “lost” their communal den and we see most of the Northies on a regular basis. After almost two years at their Airstrip den, however, they finally moved to a new communal den… and it’s not been fun… Their old den was located right next to the Airstrip (so we could visit them even if it was wet/raining) and had great visibility. The new den is located right next to a marsh and surrounded by tall grass, making it really hard to see the hyenas sometimes. But, the new den did bring three little surprises: LNTL (Lentil Soup), YANA (Solyanka), and WOLF (Arctic Wolf).  LNTL and YANA both belong to SOUP; WOLF is NAGA’s first cub. *Disclaimer: any similarities between hyena names and researcher names is purely coincidental and it is also a pure coincidence that YANA is the daughter of the matriarch, and could thus be matriarch herself in the future 😉

On a sadder note, lions killed CLEV (Clever Girl), one of our mothers, close to the den last week. She left behind two cubs, LBRA and FIVE, who are unfortunately too small to be weaned. LBRA was still rather active the last time I stopped by the communal den, but Benson thinks that they’ll only be able to survive for two weeks without milk Generally, hyenas move dens when they are disturbed by lions (as lions will kill the cubs if given the chance), so I was surprised to see that they’re still hanging out at the same den. I was even more surprised when I showed up on Monday night to find some non-hyena visitors at the den as well. When I first pulled up, a small herd of elephants was happily munching on the plants next to the den. No problem! I just parked the Cruiser further away from the den and waited for them to move on. Once the herd was a safe distance from the den, I drove closer, only to discover a crocodile chilling right next to the den hole! The crocodile swiftly disappeared into the water right behind the den, but jeez! Fingers crossed that the hyenas finally take action now and move back towards the Airstrip.

South Clan

MCKY (Mickey Smith), the youngest resident of South's communal den (for now...).

South Clan has been rather uneventful since I found their den. After a week or so at Superstar Den, they moved a little further west to a nearby den (Superstar Den 2). The move was so small that I could easily see them from the original Superstar Den, so luckily no den hunting was required. All of the new cubs are now confirmed, and I’ve even seen a couple of the cubs (now subadults) from our original Summer 2019 cohort (including MPRS, CROM, JOJO, PDOX, and NOBL). Brian, the Conservancy manager, thinks that the migration will arrive in the Triangle within the next couple of weeks, so hopefully the hyenas will be more active once there is more prey available.

Frustrated Zebra Clan (formerly known as Happy Zebra Clan)

INFY (Infinity) hanging out at the edge of a buffalo herd.

Although I’m still den hunting (or more accurately put, waiting for the territory to dry up enough so that I can go den hunting again without getting the Cruiser stuck), I finally discovered the secret to guaranteed hyena sightings in Happy Zebra: buffalo herds. My current strategy is to scan the territory for big buffalo herds, drive to them, and scan along the perimeter of the herd. 9 times out of 10, at least 4+ hyenas will be lounging around the edge of the herd. My previous strategy of simply driving around the territory and willing hyenas into existence often resulted in 0 hyenas (1-2 if I’m lucky), so this new strategy is a huge improvement. And, to save the best for last, the Mara treated me to a *very* special sighting on Saturday night. Around 7pm, I found a buffalo herd that was crossing the main road – nice! I parked the Cruiser and patiently waited for the herd to cross as I knew that hyenas would soon follow behind. Sure enough, 4 hyenas crossed the road with the last couple of buffalo. I started photographing and IDing these hyenas when suddenly 4-5 females (potential mothers) and 6 (!!!) cubs all showed up from the same direction within 5 minutes! Now, this was exciting for two reasons: 1. These were the first Happy Zebra cubs I’ve seen since coming back out here in February and 2. This means that the communal den *has* to be close to where I was parked. Unfortunately, I’m still den hunting the area they came from, but I have a feeling that I might find them before I leave for my vacation at the end of this week (or by the end of June at the latest hopefully). On a different note, LANC was one of the females who showed up, and I was able to confirm that she is not the new matriarch (I saw her appeasing to BARD, one of PIKE’s younger daughters). I still think that EREM may have a shot at being the new matriarch, but I’m also tossing RUMG (one of PIKE’s granddaughters) and SNAP (PIKE’s littermate) into the ring. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

This week's sightings:

Puff adder crossing the road.
Something doesn't quite belong here.
YPSI (Ypsilante), one of our older North males, poses for me while patrolling the territory
Bath time
Great leopard sighting in South territory
Mara traffic
Elephant party
Cute giraffe
Bath time, part 2
Verreaux's Eagle Owl
SQSH is spending a lot of time at the den with his younger siblings, LNTL and YANA
Not a big fan of lions right now, but this is too picturesque not to post
How tall is the grass? Tall enough to almost hide two elephant babies!
Incredible serval sighting with some visitors last week!
Sometimes, you have to stop and smell the roses...
...and sometimes you just have to eat the roses.
Can you spot LBRA? Not pictured: the crocodile hanging out right by the den hole.
Game drives with Brian always mean up-close and personal encounters with elephants.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science