Tag Archive | Masaai Mara


Apparently I am no longer invincible. I hear this is what happens when you turn 30 (next week!) but I didn’t believe it.  Nonetheless, reality cares not for what I do and don’t believe, and my backcountry vacation in the Yellowstone and Tetons (with bears! and marmots! and moose!) left me with a cold that has knocked me flat on my back.

So, instead of trying to blog, in between bites of chicken & stars soup and through the fog on NyQuil, about why shade skews our perception of where animals are hanging out, I am instead suggesting you read this gorgeous blog post by one of the students with the Masaai Mara Hyena Project. Masaai Mara is part of the larger Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, which spans Kenya and Tanzania. Masaai Mara falls on the Kenyan side of the border, and Serengeti on the Tanzanian side.

The hyena project is overseen by Kay Holekamp’s lab at the University of Michigan. I had the privilege of spending a week or so with these guys in the Mara in 2012, trying to fool their hyenas with our lifesized lion dummies. They are an amazing, fun, and productive group doing really cool research about the intersection of hyena physiology and behavior. It’s sort of the flip side of what I’m interested in – whereas I’m interested in how animal behaviors translate upwards into larger scale dynamics of populations, Holekamp’s group is trying to understand the physiological drivers of, and implications of, these behaviors. For example, hyenas live in incredibly hierarchical societies. What makes a hyena “top dog”, if you will, in a clan? And in turn, how does that dominance status affect that individual’s health? Their reproduction? Why do lower-ranking individuals help higher ranking individuals acquire food, when they don’t actually get to eat it? Stuff like that. It’s pretty cool. So check them out!