To eat or to mate that’s the question

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By Eve Davidian

To reproduce is the ultimate goal of all living creatures. But to achieve this, individuals first have to survive long enough, and so must eat. The more, the better? Not so sure. A good diet may make you strong and appealing to potential mates but an excess of food can turn out to be counterproductive.

Jage, a male from the Ngoitokitok clan wanted it all, to feast and to mate, but he learnt the hard way that one sometimes has to choose. One day, after months spent courting females of his clan, he was lucky enough to find favor with Uvumiliva, a young and high-ranking female (to say, a nice piece). But there was a catch; Jage had feasted earlier in the morning and his belly was so bloated that he could not seal the deal.

It should be pointed out that mating is a very tricky task for male spotted hyenas because females’ private parts are masculinized into a pseudo-penis. This means that reaching seventh heaven requires full cooperation from the female – she has to stand still, put her head down and retract her pseudo-penis. But even when the female does cooperate, the male still has to show great acrobatic skills. It does take males some time and practice to get it right, and those with little experience usually are clumsy and sorely try the female’s patience.

On that hot day, Jage tackled the task. But no matter how much he wiggled and waggled, his huge, flabby belly kept barring the way. Jage was exhausted by all this physical activity. Just picture yourself running a marathon while aiming at a bullseye with an arrow, all this after having devoured a huge platter of meat! Jage was panting and drooling, and had to take regular breaks to catch his breath. Meanwhile, Uvumiliva remained amazingly calm and supportive – she actually got her name, meaning ‘patient’, after that day.

Jage really was not at his best that day. In a moment of weakness, he even tried to blame it all on Nyemeleo, a rival male born in the Shamba clan that had just joined the Ngoitokitok clan. Of course Nyemeleo was not responsible for Jage’s misery; apart from standing beside the couple and peeping at them, which let’s admit was slightly sleazy, Nyemeleo was not really interfering. Maybe Nyemeleo simply wanted to show off his athletic body and perfectly-sized belly, hoping that Uvumiliva would change her mind and pick him instead of the chubby guy. But quite clearly Nyemeleo’s presence did not help Jage to keep his focus on the target. Hyena sweethearts do like to have their privacy and usually do their ‘business’ in remote areas of their clan territory. After spending hours peeping (yes, but for Science!) at the trio, we had to leave them. We hoped for the best but our expectations were low.

Four months later – the duration of gestation in spotted hyenas – Uvumiliva did not give birth to cubs, suggesting both that Jage’s attempts failed and that Uvumiliva did not give Nyemeleo a chance. Let’s hope that Jage at least learnt a lesson from this unfortunate turn of events and that he now thinks twice before having an umpteenth slice of meat.

Morale of the story: Better eat light than miss the boat.

Here is the video showing Jage’s setbacks:

It’s tough to be a male in love

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By Eve Davidian

Spotted hyena males can be very persistent when they have a crush on a female. They may follow the female’s every movement: lie down a few meters away from her when she decides to rest, observe her when she changes her position or lifts her head, and get up and follow her when she walks away – in human society, such a behavior would be considered as stalking. In spotted hyenas, males use this rather exhausting strategy to foster and maintain a friendly relationship with the female – and more if they hit it off. Staying nearby a female also allows the male to displace rivals if they come too close to their loved one or to defend the female if she is being aggressively harassed by another male – harassment by males occurs regularly but is a far less successful strategy than a charming courtship.

There was a period when Kondo, one of the males in the Ngoitokitok clan, was very much into the female Aiba and was following her wherever she went. Aiba seemed ok with this rather old guy sticking around. They actually made quite a cute couple sleeping close to each other. One day, as we were approaching them by car, Aiba got up and walked away from her resting place – and from Kondo. Kondo was then deep asleep and did not react to her departure. When he woke up 15 minutes later, yawning and stretching his legs, he immediately checked the place where his girlfriend was resting. As soon as he realised that Aiba was gone he jumped up and scrutinised the surroundings to see where she was. But Aiba was nowhere to be found. Kondo looked very nervous indeed; running around and sniffing the ground for cues, pricking his ears up, running again in great excitement. It was obvious that he was desperate to find Aiba again.

We took pity on Kondo and tried to show him the direction Aiba had taken but Kondo was not paying attention. He kept trying to pick up her scent and eventually ran in the wrong direction. Poor Kondo! For more than two weeks, he had bet everything on Aiba and would have to start from scratch with another female if he did not find Aiba quickly. But no worry, when we saw Kondo again three days later he was reunited with his beloved. It seemed that after all Aiba did not resent Kondo for his lack of attention.

Here is what a male looks like when desperately looking for his lost female: