Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rainy season visitors

            The rainy season is in full force, and with it have come strong jawed creatures to invade our space. Siafu, or safari ants, have been busy building tunnels all around camp. While these guys are famous for invading tents and swarming hapless researchers in their sleep, Serena camp has so far escaped this fate (knock on wood).

As long as none of the soldiers get their pincers in you, it’s quite fascinating to watch the ants build their tunnels.

            Another creature with impressive jaws has invaded our crossings, the crocodile. “Pile of Rocks”, usually a bumpy but dry way to cross Mugorro lugga, has been flooded for the past few weeks. Crocodiles have taken advantage of this and have moved in from the Mara river. We discovered this yesterday while trying to forge the crossing. Kecil responded to the surprise by saying “I refuse to run over a crocodile”, and we took another way home.

The crocodile that tipped us off to just how high the lugga had flooded.
            Despite these new dangers, it’s been fascinating to watch the way the Mara changes with the rains. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The escarpment has become a magnet for rain and fog. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Snared: A TRU Story

***Warning: These images show a severely wounded hyena. Viewer discretion is advised.***

On March 12, Maggie and I were driving around South territory when we came across Trumain (or TRU), one of our adult females. She was laying down, and didn't look at us when we drove up to her. We were horrified to discover that she had a snare around her stomach. 
Trumain when we first saw her with the snare.

This is the first snared hyena I have seen while in the Mara Triangle, and it is likely an old snare that poachers forgot about. We do not think it was a deliberate snaring, rather an old snare that Trumain came across while she was out and about.

We immediately called Talek camp, where Benson, one of the research assistants, is registered to dart hyenas. We got permission from the Mara Conservancy (the managing orangization for the Mara Triangle), and arranged for Benson, Mary, and Leah from Talek camp to come over the next day to try and dart Trumain to remove the snare.

We got up early on March 13 to drive around South territory, but we were unable to find Trumain that day. Spirits were waning, as the wound looked deep and could have cut into her body wall cavity. Hyenas can heal from a lot, but that would have been a major injury. The next day Maggie, Leah, Mary, Benson and I all got up and drove around South. We took three cars to maximize the area covered, and brought breakfast so we could eat in the car. Time was short; if we didn't find her by ten in the morning, it would likely be too late to dart her, as the hyenas need a long time to recover before night comes.

Just as we were about the give up, it happened! Mary, Leah, and Benson spotted her from across a lugga. Benson darted her using Telosol. We cut the snare and applied Grabacin, a powder to keep away dirt and germs, to the wound. Then, since she was darted anyway, we took blood and other biological samples to genotype Trumain and learn about her genetics.  After all of that, we left her under a bush to recover. 

Maggie and I went to check on her later that night, and were delighted to find her walking around gnawing on a skull.

Eating after the darting.

In the days that followed we continued to keep an eye out for Trumain. It is possible to go weeks without seeing a hyena, so we knew that it was possible that she could be off at the edge of the territory recovering. But we still wanted to see her and make sure she was healing.

On March 28, we finally saw her again. Trumain looked great. She was muddy, but her wounds looked like they had begun to heal. Her right side still has a cut on it, but it didn't seem to be bleeding, and her right side looked good. These are amazing signs, and hopefully she will be able to make a full recovery, although she will have an impressive scar for a long while.

TRU on March 28, two weeks after the darting.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Flood flood, go away

    As I mentioned before, it’s rainy season in the Mara! Unfortunately this also means that it’s flooding season. We at Talek Fisi Camp live right next to the Talek river, and if we get a large amount of rain we have to be prepared to evacuate camp. What does this entail? So glad you asked!

    We have had to prep for a possible flood evacuation twice since I’ve been here, so I’m pretty familiar with the process now. The first thing we do is pack up the lab tent, putting all our sensitive equipment into dry bags. Dry bags seal up the contents and protect them from any water damage. The bags could actually be completed submerged without any water getting in, but of course you won’t catch us tossing them into the river to test it! Things that go into dry bags include computers, hard drives, GPSs, our centrifuge, our hyena ID books, and few other important electronics and documents. Everything else we put up on tables to minimize the chance that they’ll get wet. The dry bags go into the cars in the event that we need to drive out of camp to seek higher ground. After everything in the lab tent has been taken care of, we’ll often rush to pack a bag for ourselves in case our tents get in the path of the flood. As you might expect, we take all of our electronics and any special things we want to save, but generally it’s no big deal if some of our clothes get wet.
The river normally
The river during a flood watch
    While we pack up the lab tent, the camp staff is securing the kitchen tent, bringing non-waterproof things to the higher ground of the lab tent and packing the car with perishables. After everything is packed and ready to go, we sit and wait to see if the river will push us out of camp. Thankfully both times I’ve been involved in flood prep, the river has receded and we haven’t had to leave camp. In the event we do need to fully evacuate, we would simply drive the cars out of camp and up a hill to higher ground. At that point there would be nothing to do but sit tight until the river calms down and goes back to its normal level. Flooding is new experience for me, but the fact that we always have a plan in the event of an emergency makes it easy to deal with. I do wish it would stop raining though, I miss seeing the hyenas!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science