or... what did you really DO?
This has been my year for up close and personal with wildlife.
In March I got to kiss a grey whale on the nose in Baja, Mexico.
In July I got slurped by a giraffe and got to pet a hyena!
But the joy of this African experience has also been the human connections made, most notably the student hyena researchers and their professor and our friend Kay Holekamp (check out her website at http://hyenas.zoology.msu.edu/ ). It is wonderful to be with young people so enthusiastic about their work and so helpful to those of us clueless visitors.
They have done A LOT of research on these fascinating animals---28 years worth! There's no way I can tell you about that but if you're interested the students from MSU have an up to date blog about their experiences at [[http://msuhyenas.blogspot.co.ke]
For the purposes of this entry I'll just tell you about some of the things we (the aforementioned clueless visitors) got to do.
The highlight is that we both got to help dart a hyena. This is not an easy thing to do! For one thing the researchers are very careful not to traumatize the other hyenas. Much time is spent separating out the desired hyena from the rest of the pack and then shooting the tranquilizing dart in the butt, but only when the other hyenas aren't looking. The darted hyena most likely thinks it's been stung by some large insect, circles around a bit in an effort to remove the dart, then hopefully runs off to someplace that is still in the open where we can see it. Once it's down,we drive over, cover its eyes so they don't dry out, and then take blood and fecal samples, body and teeth measurements, etc. Here's what it looks like:
Darted comatose hyena
Kay getting blood samples
Phyllis touching the hyena
Oh, those teeth!
A safe recovery place
Do not do this at home.
Unlike the tourists, we get to move out of the cars and walk around, plus take the cars off the roads. All around us were gazelles, zebras, gnus, and giraffes. Luckily, no other hyenas or lions were close by during the darting. The other hyenas, in fact, were all excited and going off to defend their territory against a neighboring clan's incursion. Then it's back to camp for sausages and omelettes (we, not the hyenas!), fresh fruit and real Kenyan coffee. The rest of the day is spent in data input and sample preparation, which looks like this:
Scientists at work
Another test they were doing was getting samples of hyena saliva to compare to blood test data (saliva sampling being much easier than blood sampling). To that end, they put out a large rod with a chewy part at the end. The hyena bites on the chewy part and the two of you have a tug of war! Believe me, it's hard to keep control of the stick. Even the pups are STRONG.
But it's not all work and no play, no sirree. Many evenings we head up to a high hill for sun-downers (ie wine in a box and Tusker Lager) to watch the sunset as a backdrop with various amazing animals in the foreground. One evening before our sun-downers Kay stopped above a huge herd of gnus in the distance and immediately noticed 4 ostriches. We drove over and they were doing this incredible courtship dance, which Kay interpreted. They weren't as good as us doing swing dancing, but pretty impressive nevertheless.
One last thing---they have a fake hyena they occasionally use to attract other hyenas. His name is Target. Rick is the one on the left.:
This you can try at home.
Sunsets on the Savannah. Wine in a box. Life is good.