Running after hyenas: Q & A with Hadley Couraud ‘13, in Kenya

Kathryn Walker
Co-Features Editor

Hadley Couraud

Hadley Couraud graduated in Spring 2013 with a major in Biology and a minor in Peace Studies.

Hadley Couraud doing tests on a hyena in the African Mara with research co-workers (Photo: courtesy of Hadley Couraud)

Hadley Couraud doing tests on a hyena in the African Mara with research co-workers (Photo: courtesy of Hadley Couraud)

While at Goucher, she was on the Cross Country and Track and Field teams, and was also involved in Earthworks and Goucher Leadership Council.  (She also happens to be a 4th generation Goucher student) 

What are you doing now that you graduated?:
Now a recent graduate, I am working as a Research Assistant for Michigan State University’s Mara Hyena Project; I am living in a wildlife research camp in the Maasai Mara studying the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). The job description hails as purely scientific, “monitoring demography and behavior … bimonthly prey censuses … collecting and processing fecal, blood, and tissue samples.” However, I am presented every day with a certain truth: Contrary to the juxtaposition often posed, biology and peace studies are inextricably intertwined.


Couraud doing some chemical tests on a Hyena DNA sample (Photo: Hadley Couraud)

Couraud doing some chemical tests on a Hyena DNA sample (Photo: Hadley Couraud)

Why work with hyenas?
Thought by many to be the cowardly scavengers of the Mara (who all sound like Whoopi Goldberg, right?), hyenas are in fact some of the most effective predators on the savannah, more likely to have their kills stolen by lions than the other way around. One of the most fascinating things about them is their social complexity – they live in societies whose complexity is more on par with primates than any other animal group. What we are learning and seeing now more than ever however, are the hyenas’ resilience and adaptability in the face of burgeoning human influences. These anthropogenic disturbances are broad, but include livestock grazing, the increasing number of lodges and tourists, and the burgeoning town of Talek which lies just on the opposite bank of the Talek River which partly defines the northern border of the Reserve.  However, the hyenas are but one piece of evidence of how changes in the region are impacting the stability of the ecosystem.  It is vital to see that the changes we see in hyenas’ biology and behavior have causes and ramifications beyond a biological perspective.

Has Goucher guided you?
Coming to Goucher, I knew exactly what direction I wanted to take in my studies. I was going to pursue a Biology degree and enter the field of wildlife conservation with the vision of working internationally to study wild species and conserve them. Then I came to Goucher, and three experiences changed my vision. The first was studying abroad in Tanzania, where I studied community wildlife management for a month – and began to see for the first time how important people were in the story of wildlife conservation. The second was my ecology class, when I learned the language and workings of ecosystems, and began to see how impossible it is to isolate a species and work for its conservation without considering every actor in the environment. Finally, I took my first Peace Studies class, which hooked me into becoming a student of the discipline. With these three stepping-stones, I have begun walking a new path, one heading into the unknown, but in the direction of the intersection of conservation, community, and human rights.


Best part of your job now?:
Recently, I became one of our trained darters for the project, and that has been one of the neatest parts of the job. Using a rifle powered by pressurized CO2, we dart/tranquilize our hyenas to put on GPS collars and/or take blood and bacteria samples and body and teeth measurements. I love getting to be so hands on with the hyenas and when it’s your finger pulling the trigger, there is an element of responsibility, respect, connection and gratitude for the animal that is really powerful to experience.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s