Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tough Tommies


Normally when I think of Thompson gazelles, Tommies, the phrase “relentless fighter” doesn’t come to mind. However on Christmas Eve I saw two of them engaged in what can only be described as an epic showdown.

 
 
It was fascinating to watch the strategies the combatants used, and how they employed their horns in the fight. A bout was initiated by butting their heads together, and then using the tips of their horns to lunges, feint, and parry. 


The initial contact.

Examples of the fencing using the tips of their horns.

Once they locked horns, not only did the Tommies push against each other in an effort try to shove the other over, but they also would try to catch one of their opponent’s horns using the ridges along the shaft of the horn and clamp it to the ground. The trapped opponent would then have to twist his way out of the clamp, and once freed the two would start the process all over again.
Locking horns to test each other's strength.
The Tommy on the right clamping the horn of the horn of his opponent to the ground.

What also amazed me was the fact that these Tommies had been fighting when arrived, went on non-stop for the 5 minutes we watched them, and continued to duke it out with no signs of stopping as we left. To keep up that level of exertion for so long is no small feat, and is worthy of respect.




Saturday, December 23, 2017

BBC on Location


In late November, Emily and I got an email from Professor Holekamp about some BBC producers who were interested in working with the Michigan State University Mara Hyena Project. They wanted to film our hyenas for a new program called First Year on Earth. This series will follow animals through their first year on earth (self-explanatory title). A flurry of emails later, they arranged to come stay at the nearby Serena Lodge in mid December.

Vianet, Mark, Dominic, Sammy, and Johnny

Johnny (sound guy), Mark (camera guy), Dominic (producer), Vianet (camera guy/host), and Sammy (driver extraordinaire) arrived at the lodge on December 12. We showed them the North clan den, which is currently experiencing a huge cub boom. It is important to the BBC to have accurate and detailed information about the animals they are filming, so we were asked about lineages, behavior, and biology. 
Emily answering some questions about hyena behavior


The hyenas did us proud, and after a couple days they adjusted to having a new car at the den and behaved like their normal wonderful selves. The film crew got great footage of the moms and cubs, and even saw a carcass session and elephant-hyena interactions. 

Vianet filming the North clan
The crew left on Wednesday, and we are sad to see them go. They will be back in March/April and again in August to follow up with the clan.

First Year on Earth will be premiering in early 2019. Stay tuned for more details.




Friday, December 22, 2017

Poombie



We all have that one hyena that we just love a little more than all the others. For me that hyena is Pumba (PUMB), or otherwise, to me, known as Poombieee!! As one of JUNO’s cubs, he is part of the Disney sidekicks lineage. JUNO used to be the matriarch of our Pond clan, but has recently been pushed out of the number one spot by AQUA. At about 2.5 years of age, PUMB is getting ready to disperse to other clans, because of this we often go long periods of time without seeing him (sadly). Fortunately for me, this cheeky guy loves the car and likes to come right up to have a peek inside to see what us weird two legged creatures are up to! This makes Poombie pretty easy to ID, as he will often approach the car upon our arrival. He is quite fantastic!

FACT: Poombie is the best hyener in the entire project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A day in the life - First mating


Dear Diary,

Today was amazing. I finally chose a male to mate with. I've had an exciting few weeks with multiple males vying for the opportunity to father my first litter. Pollock Pines has been the most tenacious with courting me, and he’s just so handsome I knew he would be the one.

I was with my best friends when Pollock first approached. After plenty of approach avoids, head bobs, and bowing (my favorite courtship behavior), I led Pollock away for some privacy. We chased each other to a buffalo wallow and splashed around in the puddle. I covered myself with mud from head to toe and then dried off by rolling around in the dirt while he looked on lovingly. It was so romantic.



I then led him off to a clearing and let him mate. He tried his very best, but he was still quite awkward. I had heard it was a difficult process for the males, but I never imagined how silly he would look, I almost had to call the whole thing off. After two mountings he was successful, and we wandered off to snack together on an old wildebeest carcass we found.





Later, I went back and told my friends all about it. They say I’ll have my first litter after 110 days, I cannot wait. A lot of them are already pregnant after the migration, and we're going to raise all our cubs up together. I can't believe that I'm finally going to go from groaning over my clan-mate's cubs to groaning over my own!

Well after all that excitement it’s time for a nap!

-        Rummy

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Springtime in the Mara!

With finals and the first snows of the season, I thought I would post some pictures of baby animals! While not all animals in the mara have a specific season where they have their young, we've been seeing a whole lot of cute little babies lately!










Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Leaping Leopards


A few weeks ago we were on our way to the communal den in Pond territory when we got side tracked by one of the best leopard sighting I've ever seen! A mom and her nearly full-grown daughter were traveling down a lugga.
 
Daughter (top) and Mother (bottom).
 While this pair had been seen by the other R.A.'s this was my first time seeing them, and they didn't disappoint. While we were following them, not only did we get both in very striking poses:

Mother looking at my soul.
The daughter scent marking
 We also got to see the daughter practice her hunting skills on mom!



 Top cap it all Lily even got an amazing shot of one of the them trying to catch a Reedbuck that they had unknowingly spooked out of the bushes.





Swing and a miss


It was a real treat to see such animals and behavior in the day time. Working in the Mara is the job that keeps on giving.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Thanksgiving in Kenya


This Thanksgiving was the first one I spent away from family. As a native Michigander it was hard to get in the holiday mood with green trees and no leaves on the ground. Luckily I had my Fisi family to celebrate with me.

In the field we alternate who hosts holidays. Halloween was in Serena, so Thanksgiving was in Talek. Emily and I left right after obs on Wednesday to drive to the other camp. We took the back roads and got to see the beautiful hills of the Reserve. We arrived early enough to go to the Talek market day, where I bought some kanga fabric.

Maasai market in Talek town
On Thanksgiving proper, the whole group cooked. I made sweet potatoes beforehand, and we brought a turkey all the way from Nairobi.  Leah, Lily, Mary, Jack, and Emily washed, peeled, and chopped potatoes and garlic under the watchful eye of the Joseph, the Talek chef. Leah fried up some excellent chapati, and Jack made chocolate chip cookies. We headed to Base Camp, a nearby lodge, to look at some beading by the Maasai Mamas.

The Fisi Family
At 3pm the 16 of us (6 Americans and 10 Kenyans) sat down to eat. For dinner we had American classics like turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, but we also had chapati, sukuma, lentils, traditional Kenyan dishes. Dessert was some truly amazing pumpkin pie.

It was interesting to experience Thanksgiving, an American holiday, while in a foreign country. In the spirit of the holiday I took the time to think about what I am thankful for this year. I have a fantastic job and great co-workers. I have my health. I live in a time where I was able to call my family and wish them a happy Thanksgiving. 

But this year I was struck by how privileged I am. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, doing the kind of research I have dreamed about since middle school. I am able to learn from the Kenyan people about their culture and history. I am deeply thankful for the opportunities I have been presented with, and I remind myself daily how lucky I am to be able to experience this journey.

And with that, I wish you all a (belated) Happy Thanksgiving. 



Michigan State University | College of Natural Science