The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another day with the striped donkeys...

November 13, 2009

Yesterday was amazing! Kai and I left camp at 8am and did not return until after 4pm (and that was only because we had to be back by 5 for a lecture). We watched zebras all day and recorded a total of 50 individual five minute samples of zebra behavior. Even though we were out for a long time, I never did get tired of watching them. We saw foals nursing, mares grooming one another, stallions curling their upper lips, zebras kicking and biting at one another, mares weaning their foals, zebra nap time for almost entire herds and zebras taking turns rolling in a particularly excellent and dusty/muddy patch.

It was really cool to watch them because they are so horselike in many ways and yet so different in others. The stallions will rear up and spar on their hind legs just like horses, but they also fight kind of by kneeling down and striking at one another with their heads, by slamming their head into the others chest and trying knock it off balance. Zebras are also really creative about finding ways to scratch their itches. One individual was standing over a scrubby bush that just reached its belly and walking back and forth over into in order to get rid of a tummy itch!

The only thing I don’t like about doing zebra research is that we have to stay in the truck the whole time. This is because while the zebras aren’t scared of us in the vehicles and we can get quite close before disrupting their normal behaviors, they are very scared of people in foot as most African mammals are, because of the fact that from the very beginnings of their evolutionary history, they have been hunted by humans. However, if there is a time when it would be good for me just to sit around for a week, it is definitely this week as I’m still feeling rather hivihivi (iffy/fifty fifty/so so) and I really want to be better by the time we hit the coast so I hopefully will be fit and ready for hours of snorkeling and not still sick enough that I keep getting cold in the water.

Kai is a really good and enthusiastic research partner, though it is a little bit like working with a very overgrown little brother. I’m constantly reminding him that we can’t try to hunt things with spears because it would ruin our research and that it isn’t funny to poke me when I’m perched precariously on the top of the truck while looking through the binoculars, but so far we’re the only group who has made the decision to stay out all day, for which I ‘m really glad. After all, when is the next time I’m going to get back to Tanzania to follow zebras around?

Our research is going well, though we are seeing less dominance asserting behaviors than we had expected to, so it will be interesting to see if we can really collect enough data to answer our primary question, or if we will eventually focus in on one of the other ideas when it comes time to present our findings. I really can’t believe people do this sort of thing for a career – its pretty amazing!

Of course, I’m still terrified when I think about all of the school I still have left to go before I can maybe have such a cool job, but at least there is a goal in sight! As usual, the Lewis and Clark Registrar decided that I wasn’t a student there (this is the third time this has happened) even after I send in my class choices and I wasn’t registered for anything at all when Mwalimu Ken used his satellite phone to check and see if all of us who had wanted to had been able to register for his Animal Behavior class this spring. Thankfully, he was also able to use his phone to actually register me for courses and I’m now signed up for Chemistry, Animal Behavior and Evolution this spring. I’m still hoping to take something fun, like maybe a writing class, but I can figure that out next time I’m in Arusha. Only in East Africa would I be discussing my future academic plans with my advisor while doing my laundry!

Other amusing incidents of the day include:
1. Rachel giving her presentation on bats. She did a great job and it kept reminding me of my little brother, Brody, every time she talked about fruit bats because Brody and I love to watch them at the zoo forever. Brody will be so thrilled when he find out that I’ve seen some of the biggest fruit bats in the world, the Pemba Flying Foxes!
2. The Maasai trying to teach us how to throw spears. We were all pretty bad. I was spectacularly bad.
3. Kim spilling her Fanta underneath her chair and Mwalimu Ken then making one of his ridiculous puns about the fact that she had created a “fanta sea”.
4. Mara, Lisa and Kim seeing a zebra with a blonde mane in tail while out researching impala harems.
5. Kai finding out that I’ve read most of the Star Wars novels ever published and asking me to tell him Star Wars stories while we were watching zebras. Unfortunately (or is that fortunately?) this phase of mine lasted only a year in eighth grade and stopped as soon as I actually made friends in high school, so I couldn’t remember anything well enough to help him out!!
6. Our truck got stuck in the mud and Kai, one of the Maasai and I had to help push it out of about two feet of mud in order to continue on. Obviously, it was my one good armed effort, not Kai’s football player strength that made the difference!

Miss you all! I realized that even though the fact that I have less than a month left here is terribly sad, it also means I get to come home and see you all which makes me very excited. But if anyone wants to come back with me soon, that would be more than ok!

-Hill!

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