Costs and benefits of coming and going

Here’s a postscript to the above (below) posting about Bebe’s absenteeism.
There’s an article by Kay Holekamp and friends in the journal ‘Ethology’ that describes the splintering off of a group of mid to low ranking hyenas from the main body of the Talek clan in the Masai Mara. Apparently 8 of the 22 adult females and their 7 offspring, left the Talek clan and formed a new territory next to the parent clan’s home range where they were joined by at least three immigrant adult males. At one stage they actually engaged in a clan war with their former clan mates.
Six months after the separation, five hyenas from the splinter group, three females and two males, returned to the Talek clan and the female returnees were subjected to severe aggression (at levels previously unobserved) from the Talek members. Seems hyenas have long memories and don’t take kindly to disloyalty. Interestingly, the two males in the group of five were not subjected to aggression; males, I guess, having a little more freedom to move between territories.
The authors suggested that the reason for the initial splintering was lack of feeding opportunities; that the hyenas in the splinter group were constantly weighing up opportunities outside and within the new clan and that the three females who returned, found that separation from the Talek clan didn’t bring any feeding benefits and so they bore the consequences of their returning.
In the case of Bebe, this kind of thing isn’t a good fit. While she wasn’t a high ranking hyena, being so tame, she had access to some pretty good food, courtesy of the hyena man. She was persecuted a bit by Dibbey but I never saw her with open wounds like I’ve seen on Willi, so I couldn’t imagine she’d emigrate due to lack of feeding opportunities.
But then on the other hand, this is the kind of place where territories can easily open up. If you remember Kombolcha in May of last year, there was some conflict between villagers and hyenas with 8 hyenas killed by poisoning and a further 2 were killed by axing. This kind of thing would rip the guts out of a hyena clan, destabilising their clan structure and also weakening their ability to defend a territory. If such a thing happened near to Harar, then an opportunity might open up for some low ranking hyenas from the Suqutatberi Clan to form a splinter group. Indeed, it was probably mass poisoning that led to the opening up of a new territory for the Talek splinter group in the Masai Mara. Interestingly, Belitti, another female of Bebe’s age, from the Suqutatberi Clan, has also disappeared and I’d like to think that these two and some others have gone off and set up a new territory. But heaven help those who return to Suqutatberi and to the wrath of Dibbey.

Holekamp, K. E., Ogutu, J. O., Dublin, H. T., Frank, L. G. & Smale, L. 1993 Fission of a Spotted Hyena Clan: Consequences of Prolonged Female Absenteeism and Causes of Female Emigration, Ethology, vol. 93, pp. 285-299.


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