Wishing for Fruit

This is the Masai Mara. Vast expanses of grassland and scattered trees stretching across to the escarpment that delimits the Trans Mara. We’ve been here for a mere three days and seen a lifetime’s worth of wildlife, from bushbuck to eland to elephants and all of the animals that eat them, including the Talek hyena clan, the focus of the research centre, run by Michigan State University.
Studying hyenas here is a different ballgame. For starters, park rules prevent you from getting out of your vehicle so that you can never follow the hyenas around on foot. So the entire time spent watching hyenas is done from the seat of a four wheel drive. And, as there’s nobody feeding the hyenas, there’s no predictable supply of food here, so that when you set off to study the clan, you have to go searching for individuals, rather than have them coming to you.
Last night we located and followed a hyena with a radio collar as she set off in search of food with another five hyenas in attendance. I recalled what Hans Kruuk had written about hyenas hunting zebras in groups of six and thought to myself, this would be quite a coincidence if they started hunting zebra. Then after following for half an hour, the hyenas picked up the pace and we could see black and white stripes scattering as the hyenas made a half hearted run at the zebras to see if anyone was carrying a limp or was slow to get moving. At that point we lost contact with the collared hyena and searched around for a bit in the darkness before calling it a night. Not sure whether the hyenas caught themselves a zebra but they did catch something as there were a few bloodied hyenas lazing in the sun the following morning.
One of the photos below is of a hyena that found the carcass of a Thompsons gazelle in a tree. A leopard had hung it there the previous night and left it to be returned to at a more opportune time and the hyenas caught a whiff of the dead animal. The first hyena to smell it was mature. She took a look at the carcass and quickly decided that it was too hard to access, and moved on. The second hyena was a sub-adult and, after it smelled the carcass, made a couple of circuits of the tree. It would stand on its hind legs with its front paws on the tree, looking up in hope that something would miraculously bring the carcass tumbling down from the branch where it was securely lodged. And the hyena even looked to us in the truck as if there was possibility that we might accidentally drive into the tree and dislodge the carcass. In this case, the hyena had another lesson in finding food: in the Masai Mara, don’t waste time trying to get at the fruit of the trees.

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