A scary reminder

Written by: Kay Holekamp

Primary Source: MSU Hyenas

A post by Kay Holekamp. Photo courtesy of David S Green.

I stayed in from afternoon obs yesterday to work on the talks I must give in India next week. At 7 pm, I realized I had been sitting at my computer non-stop since 10am, and that my back was hurting from sitting so long in my awful desk chair, so I decided to lie down on my bed to read until my students and RAs returned from obs. I had slept badly the night before, so I soon dozed off, but I awoke shortly after 8pm when I heard a car drive into camp. I worried that I might be keeping everyone waiting for dinner, so still very groggy from my nap, I got a torch, grabbed the pile of stuff I had assembled to take to the lab tent, shut up my tent, and headed down the path toward the kitchen. I was halfway there when I heard bushes rustling violently in the 5-meter wide space between my path and the river, and then heard what sounded like galloping horses right beside me. I aimed my torch down the path just as a big bull buffalo came crashing out of the bushes about 10 meters in front of me and went charging off to my right. We had seen two buffalos grazing in camp two nights earlier, so I should have been paying more attention, and proceeding down the path much more cautiously, than I did last night. Knowing there must be a second buffalo and hearing more thundering hooves beside me, I turned around and started running back to my tent, my arms still full of papers and flash drives, when the second buffalo now crashed through the bushes and crossed the path right in front of me. He was so close that I threw down all the stuff I was carrying (sure glad I wasn’t carrying my laptop!) and tried to run back toward the lab tent in case he decided to come after me, but I promptly tripped on a root and fell down. Luckily the buffalos were both as freaked out by this encounter as I was because, down on the ground like that, I would have been very easy for either or both of them to squash. Happily for me, they both ran off into the night. Our Masai night watchman, Lusingo, came racing over from the camp driveway to where I had fallen, thinking perhaps I’d been gored. He was clearly as frightened as I was!  The Masai have a VERY healthy respect for buffalos, which among all African animals, are tied only with crocodiles and hippos for killing and maiming the most humans! But after Lusingo helped me collect all my papers and flash drives from the dusty path, he scolded me for not shining my torch around laterally as I was heading down the path, and he was absolutely right. I was very foolish, and as a result, got a major scare that I won’t soon forget! I was lucky this time, but the next buffalo I encounter on my path might not be so forgiving of my stupidity. At the dinner table, I told my students what had happened, and I can only hope that they will learn from my mistake so they don’t make it themselves.

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Kay Holekamp
Kay E. Holekamp, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University, focuses on the ontogenetic development, physiological mediation, and evolution of mammalian behavior. She is currently pursuing various lines of research investigating how social , ecological, and physiological variables interact during an individual’s early development to influence its subsequent behavior and its reproductive success as an adult. The primary study organism used in her lab is the spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta).
Kay Holekamp

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