Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Serena Team

Hi all,

As you may know, I’m currently the only research assistant in Serena camp. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m alone out here, so I figured it was time to introduce the team that makes hyena research possible in the Triangle:

Philimon, Moses, and Stephen

A couple weeks ago, I was on a video call with my mother when she asked me if it was worth giving up all the comforts of life in the States to study hyenas in a remote research camp. The answer: absolutely! But more importantly, I don’t actually feel like I had to give anything up (besides hot showers). Why? Philimon, Moses, and Stephen. Affectionally referred to as “the guys,” they make sure that camp life runs smoothly, and that I can focus on my research without having to worry too much about camp upkeep. Usually by the time I notice an issue, they’re already fixing it. And they absolutely spoil me while I’m out here! When Philimon realized last year that I only like bananas and red apples whereas Lila only likes mango and green apples, he started making us separate fruit bowls. When I accidentally got the Cruiser stuck in a big puddle on our driveway while heading out on obs, the guys immediately filled the entire puddle with rocks. By the next afternoon, every single puddle on the driveway was filled with rocks (to allow for traction in the mud). Last month, Philimon realized that I never eat the bottom crust of our burger buns (something about the texture, don’t judge) – since then, he’s been cutting it off beforehand… I honestly have so many stories of how the guys go above and beyond to take care of me!

Moses, Stephen, and Philimon (from left to right) with Matthew and I on our last night in camp before the pandemic.


Benson is the long-term research assistant for Talek Camp, and boy, are we lucky to have him on the team! During the pandemic, Benson was in charge of both camps, all Nairobi trips, training new Kenyan assistants, and so much more… all while taking classes to finish his degree. Whew! Even now, Benson is a huge help to Serena camp. I text him almost everyday with questions, concerns, shopping lists (with the pandemic, we can no longer get fuel, vegetables, or eggs in Serena, so we meet frequently to exchange supplies), etc. and he always tries his best to help me.

Benson with Abby (former Talek RA) and I on my very first Nairobi trip.


Need to be towed from the middle of nowhere at 6 on a Saturday morning? Stuck in a big hole in the middle of a swamp? Weird noise coming from your car? Lerijin is your guy! As the head mechanic in Serena, Lerijin knows Cruisers inside and out, so he can fix most of our car issues pretty quickly. He’s usually the first guy I text in the morning and the last guy I text at night. Although our texts are the (slightly) less romantic “Hi, can you fix this?”, “Yes, come over after breakfast” version.

Lerijin and his guys installing a new u-bolt after our old one broke while out on obs in South.


Geemi is my favorite neighbor out here! He’s also my only neighbor out here, but that’s beside the point. As the main researcher for Yale’s Maji Camp (Water Research Camp), Geemi has plenty of experience living (and driving) in the Mara. He’s the first guy we call when we need help freeing the Cruiser. When Lila and I were still relatively new to the Mara last summer, we somehow managed to get the Cruiser stuck in a lugga. Really stuck. Geemi came immediately and helped us look for rocks, dig out our tires, and push the car for almost two hours. That morning was actually the first time I met Geemi and we had some great conversations while driving around in his Land Rover in search of some rocks. Although we ended up having to call Lerijin for help (who pulled us out in less than 5 minutes!), Geemi has gotten us unstuck multiple times since then.

No picture for Geemi since we’re usually too busy collecting rocks and digging through mud!


The man who allows all of this to happen in the first place: Brian is the CEO of the Mara Conservancy, which manages the Mara Triangle. Although Brian loves to refer to the hyenas as “vile creatures,” he always sends me adorable videos of his hyena encounters, lets me put up trail cameras wherever I want to track hyenas, and even tried to burn Happy Zebra’s territory for me earlier this week. Unfortunately, it was a little too wet for a good burn, but I’m hoping that the new growth will finally lure some prey back into their territory (most of the Happy Zebrans I’ve seen so far seem to be struggling right now). Plus, Sue, Brian’s wife, is in the Triangle full-time while Nairobi is in lockdown which means lots of delicious dinners at their place, game drives, and other social events.

Game drives with Brian always include a stop for some good chai and baked goods.


KAS may not be a person, but I generally spend six hours with her every day, so she’s one of my most important coworkers. Tall grass, rocks, holes, buffalo wallows, swamps, curious hyena cubs… KAS has to deal with a lot in Serena. And she handles it like a pro.

KAS after off-roading through South territory for 2 hours.

Honorable mention: Lila

In case you haven’t noticed yet, not only am I the only American out here, but I’m also the only girl out here right now. Luckily, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and WhatsApp let me talk to Lila (my old co-RA) pretty frequently. Although she is currently finishing her Masters’ in Ireland, she knows about *everything* that happens in Serena camp and always lets me spam her with adorable hyena content, helps me with naming the new cubs, and listens to my venting sessions. She’s currently working on returning to Africa (potential field work in South Africa for her Masters, a job interview later this week for a position in Tanzania, and hopefully a visit to Fisi camp to relive our glory days) so send her some good juju.

Weekly Dose of the Mara

Master of disguise - I accidentally drove right past him the first time.

A jackal perusing the dinner menu before deciding against the monitor lizard special.

TWO LEOPARD CUBS! Unfortunately they ran into the thicket as soon as I pulled up.

High quality sighting, low quality pictures.

A jackal and fox fighting over access to a mound (I think... I only study hyena behavior).

After lots of hissing and growling, they decided to share the mound.

Mating lions - he was ready to go again, she was not.

Family portrait before the new babies arrive.

Pretty bird! One day I'll actually ID all of my bird pictures.

TULA (Tarantula) crossing from Happy Zebra into North to take advantage of all the prey hanging out in the area that Brian burned last month. 

BILJ (Billie Jean) relaxing in North.

Finally a good leopard picture! Spotted while out with Stratton, a fellow researcher who works with martial eagles and other raptors.

One of Stratton's martial eagles.

More lions...

FOXE, Waffles' surviving cub, chewing on an old plant stem. He loves playing with FIVE, who's now visibly smaller than him despite being ~2 months older.

ZIMU stopped by the communal den the other day to say hi to his mother, JUDE (Hey Jude), and younger sister, JARO. Liz had lots of fun playing with him.

Like mother, like daughter. LIZ knows how to get comfortable at the den.


redstoneprime said...

What happened to Waffle's other cub? Does the other one have a name?

Jana Woerner said...

Waffles’ other cub unfortunately passed away - I haven’t seen it since the end of March. I’m not sure how it died. We named it VNCI for DaVinci.

redstoneprime said...

What about her previous litter? Also, if they only have one cub, does that cub take the "dominant" feeding position (I.E. lying along mum's belly)?

Jana Woerner said...

Yes, they take the dominant feeding position. I saw AMOR a couple of times in February, but haven’t seen BTTR yet.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science