Hyena corn maze

This is a guest post from Eli Strauss, a PhD student in the Zoology department at Michigan State University. He is interested in the evolution of sociality and the causes and consequences of variation in social system structure. Eli plans to compare the social behavior of hyenas in and around Harar with hyenas located in the Masai Mara Game Reserve in southern Kenya.

My last day in Harar was a mixed bag. In the morning, we went into the farmland to look for the resting places of some of the Sofi hyenas. Brian and Kaylee, two photojournalists from University of Nebraska, had previously joined Abbas and followed hyenas back to a sleeping area in the farmland. This morning, we headed back to that same place to wait for returning hyenas.

Hyenas in the farmland. The corn field in the background is heavily used by Sofi hyenas

Hyenas in the farmland. The corn field in the background is heavily used as a resting place by Sofi hyenas.     

We followed hyena trails through the farmland until we reached a cornfield that abuts the streambed. There we waited, and sure enough, a number of hyenas passed through the area, many of them disappearing into the field of corn. Upon closer inspection, we found that the cornfield hid a maze of hyena trails, some ending in hyena-sized clearings. It definitely seems that the hyenas spend much of their daylight hours in these cornfields. We did a bit of crawling around the hyena corn maze ourselves, and I can attest first-hand that it is easy to find a great place for a nap in there.

Hyena peering down a trail through the corn

Hyena peering down a trail through the corn field.

It was a good morning. One of the greatest curiosities I’ve held towards the Sofi hyenas is what they do with their time. Unlike the Masai Mara, where the open savanna and the hyenas’ comfort with our vehicle allow us to observe hyenas throughout the day and night, the actions of Sofi hyenas are mysterious. In Harar, one can pretty much only see hyenas at the dump, at the feeding site, and occasionally in the streets of Jogol. That morning gave me a new glimpse of the life of a Sofi hyena.

From there, the morning took a turn for the worse. I was planning to take a bus to Addis two days later, but the bus company office informed me during breakfast that my bus had been cancelled. I rushed to the office and got the last ticket on the bus for the next day. The rest of my day was spent frantically packing, tying up loose ends, and saying sad farewells. It was particularly hard saying goodbye to Abbas and his family, who have been incredibly kind to me.  Nevertheless, I left Harar hopeful about the future. I’m excited to return next summer for a longer stay with my new human and hyena friends.

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