A Travellerspoint blog

Sunset on the Savannah

Ahhhhh---

sunsets and sunrises are spectacular anywhere, but here in Africa, out in the wilds of Africa, they are special indeed.

The drill was to gather the chairs, wine, beer and binoculars into the Hyena research truck, drive to a high point, set out the chairs, fill your glasses, clean your binoculars and just wait for whatever show appeared. Often, it was huge herds of wildebeest (called gnus here) or maybe there was a prancing/dancing ostrich---or a brilliant flash of a lilac breasted roller.

But really, no need to really comment on any of this. You get it.

Kay and Rick looking for cool stuff

Kay and Rick looking for cool stuff

The Hyena Students

The Hyena Students

And the lovely, lovely sky--------

Fiery sunset

Fiery sunset

A tranquil sunset

A tranquil sunset

A Hallalujah Sunset

A Hallalujah Sunset

Acacia tree

Acacia tree

Could be Albuquerque!

Could be Albuquerque!


Fire in the sky

Fire in the sky

Ballons at sunrise

Ballons at sunrise

Oh, did I mention the trees?

Walk to a fig tree

Walk to a fig tree

Poster Couple by Fig Tree

Poster Couple by Fig Tree

NEXT BLOG: The "do's" of African women---a real art form.

Posted by pebergman 17:44 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

LIFE WITH THE HYENAS

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.
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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

Darted comatose hyena


Kay getting blood samples

Kay getting blood samples


Phyllis touching the hyena

Phyllis touching the hyena

Oh, those teeth!

Oh, those teeth!

A safe recovery place

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

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.:
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This you can try at home.

NEXT BLOG

Sunsets on the Savannah. Wine in a box. Life is good.

Posted by pebergman 01:08 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

HYENAS 101

All you wanted to know...and more.

Disney just didn't get it right.

Yeah, I know--the LION KING was a great movie... Hakuna Matata, Circle of Life, and all that. But Disney has caused big problems for Hyena PR.
I mean really , does thisShenzi-35.png look anything like this?DSCN0978.jpg
or this?DSCN1009.jpg
Truth is, hyenas are pretty amazing--certainly amazing enough to get 28 years of funded from the National Science Foundation.
Here are the facts, just the facts ma'am:

1. FEMALES RULE! The females are 10-15% larger than the males and are more aggressive. Your status in the clan is completely dependent on who your mother was. Who your daddy was doesn't count for much. In fact, the daughters of any litter are usually ranked higher than the males, even if they are younger than older male siblings.
2. Both males and females have phalluses. Yep, you read that right. The female has an elongated clitoris through which the female urinates, copulates and gives birth. These are the only female mammals that have no external vaginal opening. Now just imagine the problem that would cause in the bathroom wars in the US!
3. Hyenas hunt singly about 75% of the time, and in groups about 25%. They are successful about 1 in 4 tries, much like other large carnivores.
4. Hyenas can eat 1/3 of their body weight at one sitting. Imagine a 150 pound man eating 50 pounds of food in one meal...ouch! Sometimes after a feed, the hyenas all look like they're pregnant with triplets.
5. The hyenas are super hardy---they can eat anthrax and survive! Venomous snakes don't kill them! I want them on my survival team!
6. They have communal dens where all the cubs stay while the mothers go hunt. Other hyenas stick around to be sure the cubs are safe. They are well cared for.
7. Want to attract a hyena? Put out a little powdered milk---it's like crack cocaine to them. (More on this later when I tell you about the research.)
8. The female has only two nursing nipples, just like humans.
9. In the Masai Mara, about 95% of what hyenas eat comes from hunting---only 5% is scavenged/stolen from other carnivores. In other areas of Africa, it's more like 60% hunting and 40% scavenging.

Hopefully this information is enough to pique your interest. If you've been to Africa, you probably saw hyenas at a kill---yes, it's a rather bloody mess, but remember they are carnivores (just like most of you). They have massive jaws---strong enough to crush your femur, should you be foolish enough to piss one off. Do NOT piss off a hyena. But if you stay in your car, you can get really close to them and they may stare at you with curiosity or ignore you completely. Here are some other pictures to round off this snapshot of one of the most fascinating animals on the planet:
a hopeful jackal

a hopeful jackal

taking a rest

taking a rest

at a kill

at a kill

spots spots everywhere!

spots spots everywhere!

puppy love

puppy love

NEXT BLOG:

I'm sure you noticed in that last picture that the mother hyena was collared. So, just what are the hyena researchers studying?
Stay tuned---it's pretty interesting.

Posted by pebergman 17:47 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Five Star Camping

Hello again!

Thanks for getting to the second entry.
Before I get into all that we did with the hyenas, let me tell you about how we lived for three weeks in the Masai Mara.

There were two hyena research camps, both of them in different areas of the park, both with rather nice tents and both with wild animals walking among the tents on a regular basis (mostly at night). You'd go to sleep one night and the next morning, there is a huge elephant poop right on the path you take to the loo! It was not uncommon to hear hyenas do their whooping calls at night---or to hear something (something BIG!) thrashing through the camp.
There were Masai guards hired to roam the camp at night, keeping all us white people alive. (However, there was also evidence that the guards were sleeping, too!) We always had a guard with a machete walk us to our tent once it got dark. During the day, while walking though the camp, we spoke loudly, sang songs or just spoke nonsense syllables---a warned lion is better than a surprised one. It was too dangerous to walk to the outdoor loo in the dark, so you just peed outside your tent. Everyone did.

Which reminds me, when you ask anyone living in an African game preserve what the most dangerous animal is, the first answer is usually a drunk human with a gun...but the SECOND answer is....(wait for it)....ANTS! Give me a lion over a fire ant any day. They are really sneaky little guys and somehow they find their way up your pants or sleeve, and on signal will all sting at once. It's not uncommon, and perfectly respectable behavior, to all of a sudden jump around like a crazy person, flinging off your clothes. Believe me, I know about this.

Here's a picture of our tent and also of the shower, an ingenious rigging that you lit to get mostly warm water, mostly. A tarp provided privacy but did not protect you from the various flying insects or whatever was hiding under the rocks (use your imagination here).
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Here's a picture of the table where we ate together and also where the researchers did all their data entry and blood/fecal sample work. One can not be squeamish when living in the wild!
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The camps are also full of various odds and ends that have been discovered over the years--mostly bones of all sorts. You REALLY appreciate the size of an elephant when you look at its skull.
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That's enough for this entry. I'll close with a few more pictures of animals. There are lots of wonderful animals that are not part of the "big five".
Here's a jackal, a banded mongoose and last but not least, a wart hog, proving god does have a sense of humor.
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Next blog:

The Amazing Hyena!! and one picture to whet your appetite. Now that is a really cute hyena.
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Posted by pebergman 19:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (5)

Lions and Cheetahs and Gnu's, oh my!

The Masai Mara, Kenya

Welcome to my blog! I know, I know—it’s taken me long enough to start one, but here it is.

I feel I’ve been really lucky in my life. For one thing, I have some amazing friends.
One of those amazing people is a longtime friend of Rick’s and now a friend of mine: Kay.
Of her many accomplishments, she is one of the world’s most prominent experts in hyenas and has been studying them in the Masai Mara for almost 30 years. Imagine our delight to be invited to participate in her hyena study! Not that we brought any expertise, not at all,
but we did bring our enthusiasm and good humor to this remote part of Kenya.

So, our adventure began when we flew to Nairobi, rented a rattle-trap small Suzuki (even the rental guy told us it was the world’s most uncomfortable car. He was right). But it was the perfect safari vehicle: hole in the top for better viewing, able to withstand the things they call roads in Kenya and easy to repair. Off we go, over a road that was so pitted, rutted and pot holed that I swear my kidneys
changed sides from all the bumping.

The Masai Mara game preserve is probably the most densely populated (with wild animals!) of any park in the world. It’s expensive to be there
($80 PP/day) but we had the advantage of getting to stay with the research team in their small tented camps. The researchers are undergrad and grad biologists from Michigan State University. They are a passionate lot—love the hyenas and can identify them by the complicated pattern of spots on each of their sides—(this absolutely amazed us. We were lucky to identify they were hyenas!). Kay and her students were a fabulous source of knowledge and advice.

Here was our daily routine: up at 5 am, pile into the research truck, leave at 5:30, watch the sun rise over the Savannah, spot as many hyenas and wild animals as we could, do the research trials (more on this later), return to camp by 9:30, have breakfast, input the data, lunch, nap, laundry and then go out again from 4 to 8 pm, drink around the fire, dinner made by the Masai cook, exhausted and in bed by 9. Whew! Because we were in the research vehicle we could go off the regular roads and into the bush. That made for some exciting encounters. On some days, Rick and I would drive our own bumpy Suzuki by ourselves out into the wild.

As you might guess, I have about a bazillion photos of amazing animals. I will share a few of my best below. Next blog I’ll show you more about the camp and also more about the hyenas.
Stay tuned!
PS- Still learning how to do this blog. Next time the pictures will have captions. Would love to have your comments!
PSS The bone is the femur of a giraffe!
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Posted by pebergman 04:38 Archived in Kenya Tagged park national mara masai Comments (4)

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