Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Clan Wars

If you have read this blog before, you're aware that spotted hyenas are extremely social creatures. A group of hyenas forms a clan, with whom they socialize, hunt, and mate. But how do we as researchers know which hyena is in which clan? And how can we draw the borders between clans when we can't actually talk to these animals?

The answer is Clan Wars.

A clan war is when two hyena clans duke it out, usually over a carcass or a disputed border. The hyena version of a war involves gathering a clan and running towards the rival clan, chasing them away from the object in contention. The clans chase each other back and forth several times, and then one clan retreats, the other declaring victory. It can get violent, with hyenas harming and even killing those in rival clans. Clan wars over territory let us draw borders between territories and figure out who is in which clan, even for individuals who we don't see all that often.

The Serena camp witnessed one of these rare events on the morning of July 7 over a zebra carcass. We were doing obs at the North communal den when Waffles (WAFL), the matriarch of North, arrived carrying half a zebra.  This was our first clue that something was up. Later that morning we tracked Raleigh (RALI) about 200m west of the den, where we were in for a surprise.

There were a bunch of Happy Zebra hyenas eating the other half of the zebra. The carcass was definitely in North territory, which meant that Happy Zebra was very obviously trespassing, and given their behavior, they knew it. Everyone was looking towards the den where the North hyenas were located.

Happy Zebra looking towards North.
Two North males, Raleigh and Pondicherry (PNDI), tried to run the Happy Zebra clan off the carcass, but were not successful. 
Raleigh and Pondicherry feed on the carcass until Happy Zebra takes the carcass back.

Eventually, several more North hyenas showed up, and it became a proper clan war. 
North clan runs off Happy Zebra.

North ran at Happy Zebra, and Happy Zebra ran at North. Hyenas on both sides were bristle-tail social sniffing, and it got tricky to keep track of who was who in the tall grass.

Happy Zebra charges at North, then North charges at happy Zebra, then Happy Zebra charges at North again.
Happy Zebra eventually retreated away, and North took possession of the carcass. Eight individuals ate and wandered around the carcass. Raleigh and Pondicherry were still there, hanging at the edges of the gathering and being chased by females if they got too close. Katana (KATA), another male, was slightly more tolerated, and was permitted to eat at the carcass. After a while most of the hyenas laid down in the grass to sleep off the morning's excitement, and we left the scene to find our next hyena hijinks.

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