Anne Hilborn

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Jan 2015

An Even Longer Journey Begins


Well I am taking a break from updating you all about my travails and adventures in Serengeti from 5 months ago.  The reason for this momentous shift is that I have started data analysis and am a wee bit excited about the small victories.  The monumental task of actually making scientific sense of the data I collected is going to take a long long time, and there will be lots of steps on that road.  One of the first steps that needs doing after coming back from the field is data entry.  Of course this doesn’t apply to all those organized/dedicated/technologically blessed souls who enter their data in the field.  I came back from Serengeti with 2 ½ books of prey survey data and a modest pile of hunt data sheets.  I had entered approximately 10 lines of data while in Serengeti so faced a large amount of grunt work ahead of me.  Now some grad students are blessed with the ability to pawn off time consuming and mostly mindless  data entry on undergrad students.  Theoretically this option was open to me, but I was reluctant to take advantage of it for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is that I don’t trust other people with my data. Before vaulting into the dizzying heights of grad school I too toiled entering other people’s data.  While I was decently paid, it still was mind numbing and I most likely wasn’t as careful as I should have been.  Know how sloppy people (including myself) are when it is not their data, I have severe reservations about trusting anybody with my precious data.  The second reason is my handwriting is not as perfect as it should be, making data entry mistakes even more probable.  The third is that the hunting behavior data is quite complex, there are a lot of interconnected bits of data, some of which are often missing  but can be extrapolated from other bits of data.  

The second most prolific hunters were the group of three adolescents comprising of Laura’s two independent daughters and a random young male of unknown provenance that joined up with them.  I considered them fairly useless hunters but it turns out they weren’t so bad.  Out of their 15 hunts, they managed to catch something 4 times.


All my data!   Doesn't look like much.

Boke (Studel’s newly independent male cub) attracted some mockery for his hunting skills.  In fact he was named (not by me) after a hapless human hunter.  And it is true that of the 10 hunts I saw, he only caught something twice.  But in fairness, Courtney was just as bad (10 hunts, 2 successes) and she had made it to the ripe age of 11.

Richard and Armitage, slayers of wildebest calves

Wendi, provider extraordinaire

Apollo and Bacchus came in a respectable third as far as number of hunts, but they were quite successful, bringing down prey in 4 of their 12 hunts.

Boke gets his stalk and chase on.

The most successful cheetahs with a 66% success rate were Vitalis (6 hunts) and the studly brothers Richard and Armitage (only 3 hunts).

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Quite a few cheetahs were fairly useless, none of Brandy’s 4 hunts was successful but she made up for it in cuteness.

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To my utter lack of surprise it turned out Bradley and Cooper were worthless on the hunting front.  Despite watching them for DAYS, they only hunted 3 times, and failed on all fronts.  Those boys were more interested in spooning and armpit grooming than hunting.

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The ideal person for data entry would be meticulous, patient, careful, familiar with the cheetah project data and my handwriting, be able to ask me lots of questions as they arose, and happy to sleuth for missing data.  And most importantly, not be me as I had other things to work on.  I am incredibly lucky that such a paragon exists in the person of my mother.  Through her heroic labors, all of my hunting data got entered by this morning.  I scraped through my databooks for every last scrap and reference to hunting behavior and at the end of it all I had 150 records of predation.  Many of these were a record of a hunt that failed, so there were no records of the kill or eat.  Other times I came across a cheetah already eating, so I have data about eating behavior but not the hunt.  However 150 records in 9 months isn’t bad, especially since in February-April I was collecting demographic data for the Serengeti Cheetah Project, and training Dennis to be the research assistant on the project so had very little time for my own work.  

With the 150 records so fresh and so clean in my hands, I did a pivot table in Excel to see which cheetahs I had the most hunts from. * I know I should have done this in R, but I would have had to learn how, while I already know how to do it in Excel. Of those 150 hunts, 44 were successful, making the overall success rate a decent 29%.  This is similar to the success rates gotten from past decades of hunting data.

Some of the results were not surprising.  The champion with the most number of hunts was Wendi.  Since I followed her for 6 days straight, it isn’t bizarre that I had so many hunts, she had 3 hungry and mischievous cubs to feed so had to kill a gazelle pretty much every day.  To get 5 gazelle, she hunted 18 times, making her success rate pretty standard.

A tiny first step has been taken, the road I am on seems remarkably long and dark at the moment, but hopefully I’ll manage to stumble on to the end, ideally doing some halfway decent science along the way.  I’ll try to keep you updated as I do.