Elephants are by far the most charismatic gentle giants you will ever come across in our unique African wilderness areas, their size alone makes them extraordinary, but their complex family life and structure, intelligence and their individual personalities set them apart too. As more and more tourists visit these conservation areas and are more exposed to elephants, it is likely that the number of human-elephant encounters will definitely increase correspondingly.

Elephant viewing just like any other wildlife there are some ground rules that I believe through my experience as a park warden are not necessarily ignored but are often not understood by our park visitors, visiting the wildlife conservation areas is always a thrilling adventure be it with family or friends you awaken your connection with nature and get a unique excitement watching wild animals up close in the comfort of your vehicle but most often we find ourselves being carried away and end risking our lives.

We don’t always have the privilege to have a “professional guide” with us while on the game drives and often are time you find yourself in a situation you have no idea what to do next when we enter into their territory  is essential to keep this three maxims in mind

  1. You are in their home area – At all times, elephants must be given right of way at all times
  2. Elephants have a “Personal space” which do not like to be invaded, it’s always wise to keep a 50 M distance
  3. Elephants are intelligent animals, have emotions and mainly want to be left in peace. while viewing wildlife its wise to keep any noise to the minimal, radios or music from the vehicle should be off, no hooting or banging the sides of the vehicle

         How to approach  Elephants   

Elephants in most conservation areas are used to vehicles and humans will go about their daily business and ignore any human observer. Relaxed and friendly elephant behaviour is ordinarily characterised by; eyes casting down, tail generally swaying from side to side while the elephant is feeding or even entwining trunks or placing the trunk tip into other elephants mouth (reassuring gestures used for greeting and in-play mode)

You will often observe elephants freezing from time to time and stretching out their trumpet towards you or by twisting their trunk tip towards your direction, it’s their way of sniffing and assessing if you’re a potential threat

Do not go closer than 50m to the animals and switch off the engine. If the elephants are comfortable, you can sit quietly and enjoy the experience, never allow the elephants especially solitary male to get too close to your vehicle, do not to let the elephants approach to within 20m of your vehicle and never allow them to touch it. If the elephants approach within this zone, switch the engine on, wait a few seconds and slowly back away.

Always assess the elephants’ direction of movement. Do not block them, cut off their escape route, or come between a mother and calf. Allow them a clear path away from the area.

Never drive into a heard or separate a mother and her calf

If switching the engine on appears to aggravate the elephant, switch it off immediately, wait a few minutes and then try to retreat again. Retreat slowly if the elephants are showing any signs of unease or mild threat

If you are in an open safari vehicle, do not stand up or make sudden movements on the vehicle. This may frighten the elephant and cause a threatening or aggressive response.

The following are some of the most obvious threatening behaviours displayed by elephants:

An elephant will always warn you to show aggression when you’re too close or when it feels intimidated by your presence it wants you to retreat. It is essential to be able to read the early signs and slowly back off, the initial signs include; Trunk up in the air sniffing, throwing around twigs, front foot lift, trunk twisting, displacement feeding (plucking at vegetation but not feeding on it but slapping it against the body, pretending to be feeding but it’s fixated at watching you) Make no sudden movements. If you do not heed to the initial warning signs the elephant may resort to more aggressive threat display behaviour or even launch a charge be it a mock charge which is quite common or otherwise without other warnings.

At any of the advanced threatening behaviours highlighted below remember never to compromise your safety and slowly retreat and leave the area because you must be infringing into their space thus making them very uncomfortable.

Spreading the ears

The elephant faces an opponent head-on with ears fully spread (at 90 degrees from the body), presumably for the purpose of appearing larger.

Shaking head

The shake usually starts with the head twisted to one side and is then rapidly rotated from side to side. The ears slap against the side of the face or neck making a loud smacking sound. Followed by throwing grass.

Trumpeting or air blast

Trumpeting is a sign of annoyance, the trunk can also be used to blow air out with a loud popping sound

Ear slapping against the body

Ear slapping is a definite sign displayed, an ear slapped against the side of the body as it shakes the head often done towards people or cars.

Tusking the ground

Bends down or kneels both tusks on the ground, pushing their trunk along the ground or uprooting vegetation uplifts vegetation as a demonstration of “look what I will do with you if you don’t back off”. It is mostly done by musth males ( musth is a periodic condition in bull elephants characterized by highly aggressive behaviour and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones)

Rushing forward

Typical mock charge, two or three times charges towards you with the ears spread out after a loud trumpet and makes a sudden stopping, kicking up dust with the forefoot and swinging its trunk towards you.

Real charge

Rushes towards the vehicle, ears spread, head held low, trunk tightly curved, tusks directed towards your direction, and this time no trumpeting. So pay attention to the early warning signs.



As a wildlife officer, one of the skills I have realised one has to have in his fingertips  is the identification of predators responsible for kills be it in the bush “my office” or while responding to Problematic Animal Control (PAC), these skills come in handy when identifying the predator responsible for the kill so as to come up with the ideal solution for the specific animal.

A basic autopsy of the animals killed i.e shoats or cattle can reveal so much; dies the animal have a bite mark on the neck, was it constricted, which parts have been bitten off and how many of them have been killed can be key to identifying the culprit (predator) of which the most common are; Spotted Hyena, Leopard, Lions and wild dogs among other small carnivores.


For understanding the impact of predators on prey species, it is obviously necessary to know about their feeding: what prey species are they killing?  What proportion of them do they take?  What age, sex, and condition are these prey?  And how do they compare in number and agesex distribution with the live prey population?

It must be remembered that most predators are extremely flexible in what they eat.   Their diet certainly varies from place to place, depending partly, of course, on what prey species are present in different areas.  For the samreason, the diet may vary with season as the prey species present change.   Even if the numbers of different prey species in an area do not alter, there may be differences·itheir catchability, due behaviour of the prey.

It is extremely difficult to sawhat proportion of prey animals are truly “available” to the predators.   And there are certainly differences between individual predators in the prey animals they take. 

Kills can be examined by waiting until the predator has finished feeding, or if this is impossible (e.g. because of lack of time, or because a small prey animal is likely to be totally consumed) by temporarily driving it from its kill. Predators can usually be made to withdraw by driving slowly towards them and separating them from their kill which can then be observed from close range.  Although most predators will flee from a human on foot, this method disturbs them considerably, and they may not then return to their kill.

Cannibalism in Lions is often displayed when a male lion takes over dormancy and territory of a rival pride, often kills any existing cubs fathered by other males; which brings the lionesses into heat more quickly, enabling the invading to sire his own young.

But my encounter with Sior a lioness of the Schora pride at the Ol Pejeta conservancy feeding on the carcass of a freshly killed lioness by her pride at night made me draw a sharp breath of shock.


I have always known lions as scavengers which happily steal food from other animals, or eat leftovers after a kill, often seen them bullying other predators into giving up their meals. but as you can see in the clip above Sior nibbles away the remains menacingly.

According to Wikipedia Cannibalism involves consuming all or part of another individual of the same species as food. To consume the same species, or show cannibalistic behaviour, is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom, and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species so it shouldn’t be such a dillema, here’s the real catch I have witnessed lions killing hyenas but never have I seen the lion eating the hyena, wild me in lets keep the conversation flowing

In your opinion, Why do you think Sior fed on the dead lioness?

Globally, one of the main biodiversity challenges is the loss of connectivity in wildlife conservation areas mainly due to human-induced factors that exert pressure on land and water resources. Indeed, many protected areas are too small to maintain viable populations of African wildlife. Despite diverse species inhabiting savannas and have for a long time had expansive habitats to utilize, the savanna ecosystem is increasingly under threat from habitat fragmentation and loss of wildlife dispersal areas to agriculture and human settlement.

Land fragmentation represents an obstacle to maintaining ecological connectivity and viable wildlife populations. Reduced landscape connectivity and impeded movements may result in higher mortality, lower population viability and lower production leading to smaller populations. In view of their great mobility and extensive spatial requirements for survival, large mammals are vulnerable to fragmentation effects.

The fragmentation effects result when animals within populations are unable to cross to connecting habitats, access mates or other biological requirements. These effects have underscored the need to maintain and restore essential movements of wildlife species particularly those with high traffic volumes, it is for this reason that wildlife corridors are constructed.



Infrared cameras used at the fence gaps to monitor wildlife traffic in and out of the conservancy coloured pictures taken during the daytime while black and white at night

A wildlife corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities or structures such as roads development or logging. This allows an exchange of individuals between population, which may help prevent the negative effect of inbreeding and may moderate some of the worst effects of habitat fragmentation.

Elephants Entering OL Pejeta from Mutara using the corridor

 The OL Pejeta Conservancy has well-modified wildlife corridors/ fence gaps classified according to their width indirectly proportional to size and number of animals using it. All animals are free to more in and out of the conservancy by way of specially constructed game corridors that only restrict the movement of rhinos knee high post in the ground, situated very close together present no challenge for elephant rates, antelope and carnivores that are easily able to jump or step over. Rhinos are unable to do this and as a result, are restricted from moving into areas where they are in danger of being slaughtered for their horn it also operates a successful livestock program which serves to benefits local pastoralist and wildlife. 

 The OlPejeta conservancy have got three constructed corridor  located on the Northern part of the conservancy with the reason being that to the Southern part of it there is small scale farming taking place by the local communities inhibited the area, the northern corridors enable dispersal of wildlife to the greater Laikipia ecosystem thus increasing their probability of survival and range while at the same time reducing pressure on the conservancy.

Connectivity is essential between adjacent conservation areas

 Advantages of the corridors

  •   They  allow the wild animals to have the freedom of movement in and out the other protected areas such as Mt. Kenya National Park, Mutara ranch, Solio ranch
  • They help prevent inbreeding of animal in order to acquire strong genes from other species of animals away from the protected area
  •    Helps the conservancy to acquire species of animal that they don’t have on  their records of wild animal species of OlPejeta through the aid of the camera traps
  •     Help elephants from breaking the fence thus promoting good wildlife management techniques

         Help in developing the checklist of wild animals within the protected area this is done through monitoring the footprints of the wild animals in the process of animals moving in and out of the protected area and through the images captured by the cameras which operate even at night.


            Although game corridor has numerous advantages there are still some challenges in line with the management such as:

  • Competition for natural resources such as food, space, cover and water 
  • Disease reservoir for livestock example zoonosis  transmission of disease can be from livestock to   wild animal 
  • Livestock predation example is lion predating against cow  


Connectivity within adjacent conservation areas is inevitable, fence gaps are the best alternatives

           Way forward 

 Wildlife corridors are not proposed as mitigation for loss of core habitat.  However, with careful planning and design, wildlife corridors can help reduce the negative effects of habitat fragmentation by allowing dispersal of individuals between large patches of remaining habitat.  While additional study on the efficacy of wildlife corridors is necessary, some general principles of evaluation and design are available and should be implemented.  Monitoring the use of corridors by target wildlife species is an important step in corridor planning, to allow for adaptive management. 

The African lion, an iconic symbol of strength, is one of the latest additions to the growing list of animals threatened with extinction. The first time you see one up close there’s this thrilling feeling that you get “I can’t be the only one who gets it” its fear, it’s exciting but most of it fun.

The love and affection that Kenyans have for this magnificent species was best portrayed after the controversial shooting of the stray lion “Mohawk” from the Nairobi National Park some years back, but the plight of this species has reached an alarming rate and thus needs to be acted upon by relevant bodies be it the Kenya Wildlife Service or Non governmental Organizations that play a crucial role in the immense research and monitoring of the species the dynamics revolving around their declining numbers and solving their conflicts with livestock herders in terms of compensations to avoid them being killed in retaliation.

Lion numbers have been quickly declining in East and West Africa, forcing the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the “king of the jungle” as Vulnerable on its updated Red List of Threatened Species. decline in lion population is attributed to factors e.g. habitat loss, diseases and human-wildlife conflict. A rapid decline has been recorded in East Africa a stronghold for lions mainly due to human-lion conflict. This includes poaching and retaliatory killing.
Statistics reveal that the national population of lions in Kenya is reduced by an average of 100 lions each year! To come up with solutions aimed at mitigating the human-lion conflict, conservationists monitor lion movements through collars.

Radio Telemetry on Lions and Pride ID

Radio collars assist the Ecological Monitoring Department to obtain data on predator-prey interactions, population status and structure, movement patterns and social organization. Through the use of collars, prey mortality caused by predators can be analyzed to show their impacts on prey species. Too many lions, for example, can be a problem because high prey off-takes can lead to a serious decline of endangered and other species of concern to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, including Jackson’s hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra, black rhinos, Beisa Oryx and ostriches. Without collars, the same data can be collected but collars allow closer monitoring on a more regular basis.

Currently, several prides of the conservancy’s lions are equipped with GPS radio collars, which are linked to GSM (Global System for Mobile communication technology) tracking devices. The collars allow for the development of home range maps and offer a greater understanding of the habits and movements of this species (only a female lion is collared because they stick to the pride). They also allow the conservancy staff to maintain the balance of wildlife on the conservancy by observing the impact of the lion upon such prey species as hartebeest, whose population had fallen by 50% over the last ten years, largely as a result of lion activity. This information is also useful in other research activities such as “kill search” that use the GPS fixes from the collard prides to locate the potential kills.
Lions from an ecological perspective are crucial for a balanced and resilient system. Therefore monitoring lions is crucial to understand their movement and general predator-prey interaction, the main purposes for the activity are; to monitor the movement and build up a photographic means of identifying lions for further research, Monitor individual pride to understand their morphological features, Monitor prides to understand their habitat utilization and home ranges and to Identify lion prey composition

To help sensitize the importance of lion tracking visitors to the conservancy can take part in a two hour lion tracking at a cost of only 40 USD for two hours you will be picked from the gate, or from your accommodation facility if you are already at the conservancy by the conservancy’s highly trained and skilled lion trackers  modern  land cruisers with high chances of spotting lions 80% chance, this will give you adequate access to the lion pride you will be tracking and in a nutshell this is what you will be engaged in Starting by feeding\ coding lion frequency into radio telemetry receiver (each collared lioness has a different collar frequency number same as our different phone sim number), drive along lion’s home ranges and wait for beep signal (Beep…Beep… beep). Once there is a beep signal, the radio telemetry receiver is connected to a hand-held two-way antenna which gives the specific direction of the lion being tracked the closer you get to the lion the higher the beep. On sighting a pride, GPS data is first downloaded at a distance where the lions feel safe.
Thereafter you will help collect the following attributes which will be recorded; Date, Time, Pride ID, Location, Type of Habitat, Vehicle GPS Point (UTM Zone 37N, WGS 1984), Photo number to be identified later, Total number of individuals, Number of different individuals of similar sex and age, Activity, (If on a kill, the species of the prey) and (If on a kill, the approximate age of the kill in days)
This information will be recorded in shorthand in the field, later it will be collated into a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. In the spreadsheet, the names of the individual lions will be also added once they had been identified from their photographs. The different group’s movements and ranges around the Conservancy will be mapped using Arc Map 10.2

Individual Identification of Lions Using Whisker Spot Pattern
Identification based on individual variation in the pattern of spots marking the position of the vibrissae between the upper lip and the nose.

Tracks and signs are all around you, even in the city. Ideal examples are birds that normally leave feces on windows, raptors that swift off the chicken from our backyards which was quite typical for us who grew up in a rural setup or forested area you definitely know not to leave your windows open, the cheeky primates are always on the lookout for an opportunistic feed.

Next time you go for a walk (obviously am not talking about pavements or tarmac) try learning as much as you can from what others have left behind, you will be surprised how much you can learn from foot tracks;

  1. How many people walked the track before you and which direction were they walking towards.
  2. Were they walking or running? Is there a scope on the front tip of the shoe track to indicate they were running
  3. Are the tracks fresh? you can even tell the type of shoe from this example rubbers, boots or sports shoes

However, it is on farms and in conservation and wilderness areas that you will discover the joys and uses of reading signs. There’s so much to read on the ground, all that took place at night is written down on the ground; a hunt, a fight, or even where the animal took a nap. Man-made gravel and sand roads are the best for reading signs especially for an area with less traffic, on one of my previous articles https://iamjusticeforwildlife.org/2018/12/09/common-carnivore-tracks-and-sctats-identification/ I gave detailed clues on how to read and identify various common carnivore tracks due to public demand I will take you through how to read and identify Rhino tracks and signs next time you’re on a game drive or doing a bushwalk in a rhino sanctuary be on the lookout for this interesting signs and clues.

Black Rhino

-The tracks of the hook-lipped rhinoceros are very similar to those of the square-lipped rhinoceros but are shorter.

-This is one rare rhinoceros to come across, an endangered species to be precise with only 15 metapopulations in Kenya.

Black Rhino tracks

-Tracks are similar to those of white rhino but are shorter

-Indentation of the posterior edge is not  usually well pronounced

Black rhino dung

The black rhino is a browser, and its dung consists of coarse, woody plant material mixed with finer material.

White Rhino

– From their sheer size, the tracks are also larger than those of the black rhino

– Both Rhinoceros species have three horny- nailed toes, the largest in front and a slightly smaller one on either side.

– The front foot track is wider and a bit more rounded than the hind track and maybe a little longer.


-Have three horny- nailed toes.

-Front foot track is wider and more rounded than the hind track.

-Indentation on posterior edge is usually more pronounced.

-The white rhino is a grazer, and so the content of its dung is fairly uniform in appearance with relatively fine plant fibres.

-They normally use their hind legs to spread it around (to mark its territory)

– Unlike the black Rhino which spreads its dung with it’s hind legs to spread it the white Rhino does not



Field identification of wildlife tracks and Scats is a rangers speciality, over time one gets acquainted and familiarized with the various animal tracks, this is one unique skill that is quite handy to every ranger because being aware of your surrounding is optimal for survival.

By interpreting tracks and signs in an area, you can piece together a record of recent visitors and events. For instance, if you come across a recent kill site there is so much information on the ground; approach tracks of a predator, jumping sprints, deep tracks left by the antelope in its bid to escape, blood spots on the sand, a drag mark leading to the bushes for concealment.

Fresh Lion tracks

It would be easy to walk straight past the scene, but a careful observer could easily piece together a vivid picture that is as fascinating as witnessing the kill itself, the stories read on the ground are sometimes amusing or dramatic and add greatly to your understanding of the animals’ behaviour of the particular area

I have taken visitors on bush walks in the various conservancies and parks that I have worked in and it’s quite fascinating how astonished they get on realizing how easily we read the footprints on the ground and tell which animals we are on their tracks, categorizing the various scats we come across, and how various animals differ in browse selection and preference of plant species. But that’s a story for another day.

I would like to walk you through how to identify common Carnivore Tracks and Scats, a breakdown that is simple to be comprehended by anyone from an ecologist, hiker, outdoors fan,wildlife/ natural resource student, conservationist, safari guide and if you live close to any conservation area then be very keen to understand how to tell which carnivore visits you farm at night to prey on your livestock in the event you need to fill up a compensation form.

One of the best pointers to tell apart a Lion and leopard track from a hyena and cheetah track other than size and location found is that Lions and leopards have retractile claws “the claws only come out when hunting” unlike for the hyenas and cheetas that are always out.


Lion Spoor

  • The hind tracks are narrow than front tracks.
  • Each foot has a single large pad with two indentations on posterior edge.
  • No claw marks show in tracksFront paw: Total length 110-130mmTotal width 90-125mm-Hind paw: Total length 105-125mmTotal width 80-115mmLion Scat

The average diameter of the droppings is usually greater than 40 mm

-May resemble those of spotted hyena though scattered at random and with great variation

-Droppings comprising mainly digested blood and flesh retain their dark colour but those containing a lot of calcium will whiten as they dry.

Spotted Hyena

Hyena Spoor

-Claws are blunt and show on tracks

-The front feet are larger than hind feet

-Main pad is large and its posterior edge


Front paw: Total length 90-105mm

Total width 90-105mm

Hind paw: Total length 80-95mm

Total width 75-85mm

Hyena Scat

Dropping are greenish when fresh and turns whitish when they dry this is because of considerable quantities of bones fragments that they consume


Black-backed Jackal Spoor

-The front foot has a large triangular main pad.

-The two middle toes extend well beyond the outer toes.

-In the hind foot, the main pad is smaller than that of the front foot but the two middle toes also extend forward.

Black-backed Jackal Scat

– Produce sausage shaped droppings
-Droppings are greenish but turns white after several days.


Leopard Spoor

-The hind track is elongated than the front

-Each foot has a single large pad with two indentations on posterior edge.

– Front paw: Total length 70-90mm.

Total width 70-90mm.

-Hind paw: Total length 80-100mm

Total width 60-80mm

Leopard Scat

-The average diameter of the droppings ranges from 20 to 30 mm.

-They are usually large but never as large as the droppings produced by an adult lion.

-May contain large quantities of hair.


Cheetah Spoor


Show claw marks on track

-Single large pad with a double indentation in the posterior edge

-Tracks are more elongated than  those of lion

-Front paw: Total length 70-85mm

Total width 65-75mm

-Hind paw: Total length 75-90mm

Cheetah Scat

-Produce sausage shaped droppings.
-May deposit  loose accumulations at lying-up spots near large kills.


Wild dog Spoor

-Claws are blunt & thick & show on tracks

-Main pad is roughly triangular and

-posterior edge is straight

-Each foot leaves fours toe imprints.

-Front paw: Total length 76-80mm

Total width 56-65mm

-Hind paw  Total length 68-82mm

Total width 48-55mm

African Wild dog Scat     

-Generally, scatter their droppings throughout their home ranges.

-Droppings can accumulate at dens sites with pups.


-The tracks of the fox are much smaller than those of jackal

-The claws may extend up to 18 mm beyond the toe pads and hind track is narrower than front track.

-The claws of the middle two-toes of the front foot are close together in the tracks

-The average diameter of the droppings is 18 mm.

-Droppings consist of chiefly of insects fragment but may contain large quantities of seeds and fruit skins.


To learn more about tracking you can write to us for any specific animal that you would like to learn about info.iamjusticeforwildlife.org or alternatively you can purchase a field guide book by Chris & Mathilde Stuart which is quite handy in learning basic tracking skills.

Rangers come across carcasses in the wild on almost a daily basis. Be it a predator kill, natural death, poaching among many other causes during their daily patrols. But not just rangers, ecologists, researchers and my targeted persons Tour Guides do as well, it is of critical importance to report any mortality sighting to the authority of the conservation area, be it a Park, Reserve or private conservation area. You might help detect a disease outbreak, typically if its a predator kill there will be clues if not the predator then scavengers: hyenas, jackals or vultures circulating the site from above or already on the ground.

Back to my guides who provide vital opportunistic sightings of mortalities its always of much help if you can roughly estimate the period that the animal is presumed to have been dead for, now this is why I have decided to take time and come up with a few leads that can help give a rough estimate of the carcass decomposition stages, from a fresh carcass to a very old one.

If you’re in the field of mammalian research be it carnivores or the herbivores you will definitely find this article quite handy.

1 Day old Elephant Carcass

Determining sex of dead elephant

Patrol teams can determine the sex of a dead elephant by examining the animal’s body, tusks, and/ or skull as follows

Fresh body.

– If you have a complete fresh body, you may be able to determine sex from body shape.

Male; shoulder height above rump and this sloped shape becomes more prominent with age.

Female; Shoulder and rump remains same height but back elongates and shows saddle back, becomes more prominent.


Fresh Elephant carcass description (0-3 weeks)

-Complete carcass present.

-Evidence of scavenger activity (droppings of scavengers, e.g. Vultures, hyenas, etc.)

-Round swollen body with decomposition fluids flowing from the carcass.

-The possible presence of maggots.

-Wet intestines within the body or around it.

-Wet skin and visible rot patches.

-A strong smell from the decomposing carcass.

-If tusks are present, they will be firmly secured in the skull, if removed the hack marks are fresh.

Fresh Carcass


Carcass Description

-Pool of blood in the carcass.

-Meat still intact in the bones.

-Presence of a predator preying on the carcass.

12 Hour Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Pool of blood around the carcass.

-Flesh beneath skin giving rounded appearance.

– Some internal organs remaining, very minimal damage to bones

1-week Old Carcass

Carcass Description

–  This is a recent kill, with blood still present in the bone.

– Less meat and skin on bones.

-No blood or fluid seen.

– Rot patch dry around carcass.

4 – Month Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Flesh has been totally cleaned and it is turning greyish.

-Less meat on the bones.

-Bare ground around carcass

– Body not rounded or swollen, shrunken.

– No strong smell from the carcass.

– Some bones may still be attached to the skin but easily detachable.

6- Month Old Carcass

– Change of color i.e. whitish-greyish

– Less meat and skin on bones.

– No blood or fluid seen.

– Some bones may be joined to tissues.

– Absence of vegetation within the death spot.

– Death spot dry, absence of body fluids and stomach contents present.

-No fresh or recent signs of scavengers.

-Dry, desiccated skin.

1 Year Old Carcass

Carcass Description

-Bones are ‘White and growing’ in sunlight

-Vegetation has regrown around the carcass.

-No signs of body tissues.

– Bones may be scattered away from original death spot.

– Very little tissue noticeable attached to the bones.

– There may be little movement of bones from the original death spot due to scavengers.

Description of very old Carcass (More than 1 year)

– Bones are becoming increasingly grey in colour.

– Bones are cracking and crumbling.

– Bones usually scattered further away from the original point of death.

– Grey and cracked bones

Difficulties in Assigning Carcass Age stages

Old vs. Very Old

– The onset of colouration is dependent on environmental and climatic factors.

– May be difficult to distinguish white from grey bones in certain habitats.

Recent vs. Old

– Rot patch development depending on the size of the animal, the physical conditions of the death spot (rocky conditions, river bed, swamp etc) human and other wildlife interference.

– The lack of any tissue on the bones should indicate’old’ where there are problems in determining the status of a rot patch.

– Using external characteristics such as external genitalia. Soft external genitalia are, however, the first body part consumed by mammalian scavengers thus these may disappear or be modified very quickly after death.




Hyenas certainly wouldn’t get far in a Miss World contest but the more I see them, the more I appreciate them. Depending on which website you read they are closer to cats than dogs, having characteristics common to both, but are actually in a family of their own; hyaenidae. Their reputation as contemptible and repulsive animals goes back thousands of years and even today this negative image is an obstacle to hyena conservation.

Spotted hyena clans are matriarchal, with females dominating groups of 80 or more animals. Clans often splinter into smaller cells, reassembling days or weeks later. To help ease the reintegration process, hyenas of all ages, ranks, and sexes engage in ceremonial one-on-one greetings. Hierarchical in all things, hyena etiquette usually requires the submissive animal to initiate the greeting.

With their patchy fur and odd proportions, maybe they flout our shallow standards for beauty in animals. Our obsession with looks doesn’t take into account how well their bodies and brains are adapted to an ecosystem, Among Africans, hyenas arouse humor and horror the former because the genitals of the females inexplicably mimic those of males, giving rise to the myth that hyenas are hermaphrodites, and the latter because of a link with death. The Maasai back in the days used to leave corpses in the bush for hyenas to dispose of. Indeed, hyenas eat almost anything, which makes them valuable.

After a big meal big meaning not a few steaks, but 30 to 40 pounds (14 to 18 kilograms) of meat, nearly a third of their weight and far more, proportionally, than a lion would eat digestion raises hyena body temperature. On such occasions, few things are more pleasant than a cool, postprandial mud bath. But even in the mud, the hierarchy rules.

Spotted hyenas are the most efficient utilisers of carcasses of any predator, being able to digest flesh, skin and bone completely. As a result they tend to be the most numerous large predator in natural African ecosystems, and the large numbers which congregate at any kill or carcass compete fiercely for food.

The strongest and most aggressive eat their fill, while weaker individuals get less or nothing. Cubs obviously cannot compete at carcasses and so they are suckled until about a year old and sometimes longer (which also may be why fewer hyena cubs die of starvation than those of other co-operative hunters like lions and wolves), but to produce enough milk to feed them the mothers have to be strong enough and aggressive enough to compete successfully with other adults at kills.

This system favors the most aggressive animals, and pregnant spotted hyenas produce and pass on to their foetuses very high quantities of and rogens (male hormones) which raise animal aggression levels, but they also cause even females to develop male genitalia. Competition between spotted hyenas starts literally from birth; they are born precocial with well-developed teeth, and they start fighting in the den within minutes to establish dominance.

          Spotted Hyenas Burdened with Hermaphrodite Myth

This long-established and persistent myth arose because female spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) have what are to all appearances male genitalia. It is nevertheless a myth: males cannot conceive or give birth to young, and females cannot sire them.

This is lucky for the males as it gives the females a reason to tolerate their presence. They aren’t needed for protection or even really for hunting, as females are bigger and more aggressive than males, have equally high testosterone levels, and are dominant over them in any social situation.

Males wishing to mate with females approach with great caution and spend a long time essentially begging to be accepted, during sexual intercourse this organ is flaccid but the males still has to insert his penis into the clitoris.

The females’ “penis” is, in fact, an enlarged, erectile clitoris the same size, shape, and position as the male’s penis through which they urinate, mate and give birth, and in place of a vagina, they have a scrotum-like pouch.

Internally, however, they have standard mammalian female plumbing with ovaries and a uterus, but the urogenital tract instead of exiting under the tail does a U-turn in the pelvis and passes through the tubular clitoris.

This is where the females pay their dues for their status; at birth, the cubs have to pass about 60cm (the umbilical cord is only about 12cm long) through this tube, which is a first-time mother is much too tight for them to fit through and tears in the process. This is exacerbated by the fact that the cubs are born after an unusually long gestation period by predator standards and are correspondingly large and well-developed.

First-time birthing is a painful and dangerous experience for mother and offspring alike and there is a high mortality rate. The torn clitoris doesn’t heal closed afterward so subsequent births are easier and less dangerous, and the torn parts will appear pink which is one way for the observer to tell the gender of mature adults.

The picture above shows the adult female hyena on the right with an erect pseudo penis trough which they urinate, copulate and give birth, its the only female mammal that has no external vaginal opening, so unique in fact, that for centuries people assumed that the spotted hyena had to be a hermaphrodite

Large antelopes called hartebeests, which were formerly widespread in Africa, have over the years declined in numbers with some sub-species being declared extinct, according to the International Union for Conservation and Nature.

Hartebeest is a large African antelope, also known as Kongoni, which has eight sub-species of which one is entirely extinct while others are facing imminent danger.

Jacksons Hartebeests grazing at Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Kenya is a home of Coke’s and Lewel’s hartebeests, which have cross-bred producing Jackson’s species, whose numbers are also declining. The conservation status of Coke’s hartebeest falls under least concerned and the numbers are noted to be decreasing while the Lewel hartebeest is categorized as Endangered. The numbers, according to the IUCN red list, is also in the decline for further reading about the five species of hartebeests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hartebeest

Hartebeest are medium sized horse like antelopes, whose herbivorous diet is comprised mainly of grasses. Although they are mainly found in medium tall to tall grasslands, they are more tolerant of high grass and woods than other plains antelopes. They feed entirely on grass, but not very selective and quite tolerant of poor-quality food. Hartebeests are very alert and cautious in comparison to other plains ungulates and rely primarily on their vision to spot predators.

Typically Hartebeest cows and calves exhibit high site fidelity and, individuals within each heard are identifiable based on unique natural marks, thus sight-resight, estimators can be used to qualify abundance of herds. Females occasionally form small herds of 5-12 animals and strong dominance relationships between females define the social organization for the entire herd. Mature males are solitary and territorial while adult females do not form permanent associations with other adults but keep up to four generations of their young. Young are born throughout the year, but conception and breeding peaks is influenced by the availability of food. The hartebeest female isolates herself in scrub areas to give birth and leaves the young calf hidden for a fortnight, only visiting it briefly to suckle.

The hartebeest is one of the most sedentary antelopes (making it easy to hunt)

This is what has lead to their numbers plunging down from my own keen observations which to me makes this species the poorest ‘mother” because it’s during this times that the calf if taken down by predators

The hartebeest is one of the most sedentary antelopes (making it easy to hunt), but it does move around more when larger groupings form during the dry seasons or in periods of drought, to seek water and better grazing. At other times the females form small groups of five to 12 animals that wander around their home range. Most mature males become solitary and spread out in adjoining territories. Hartebeests go to water regularly, but in some circumstances, territorial males appear to go without drinking for rather long periods. The home ranges are usually densely populated. When a territorial male returns from watering, he may find another in his place.

Females are free to seek the best grazing in their home range, but males cannot leave their territories for long if they intend to keep them. Successful breeding only takes place within the territories-open, short-grass areas of ridges or rises on plateaus are the most favored spots. Males strenuously defend their territories; they often stand on open, elevated areas to keep a lookout for intruders. Should a territorial male be challenged, a fight may develop. Males are aggressive, especially so during breeding peaks. Like many antelopes, however, hartebeests have developed ways of fighting that determine dominance without many fatalities or serious injuries. A ritualized series of head movements and body stances, followed by depositing droppings on long-established dung piles that mark the territory’s borders, normally precede any actual clashing of horns and fighting. After the dominance ritual, one male may leave. If not, the hartebeest with its stout horns, short, strong neck, and heavily muscled shoulders, is well-prepared for fighting. If the dispute over a territory is serious and both males are prepared to fight over it, a severe injury may result.

The critically endangered category is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN red list for the wild species. And while Jackson’s hartebeest has significant numbers and is largely found in the Mount Kenya region, with significant numbers in Laikipia, they are also found in the Ewaso region of central Kenya and Ruma National Park near Lake Victoria. The total population of Jackson’s hartebeest is unknown but in Laikipia, their numbers are estimated between 700-1000 individuals of Ol Pejeta contains an estimated 175 individuals (21%). The Laikipia population has fallen by 70% in the last 10 years. A study investigating different factors responsible for the decline, which included habitat/ Loss, competition with livestock, disease, and predation, indicated that predation was a major factor causing the decline.

It is presumed that Jackson’s hartebeest has significant numbers, with those in Laikipia having declined by more than 80 percent in the past 15 years a situation which researches are pointing it to predation, diseases and also habitat loss.