Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, March 12, 2010

Digging up the past

Well well well, we have had a very interesting day…

Some of you may remember a couple of days last year (one in January and one around November time), when our forest teams stumbled across sad, yet interesting finds. In January we found a dead infant colobus on the ground, one that could not have been more than a couple of days old. It still had the remains of the umbilical cord on its stomach. Then later on in the year, in a very similar place we happened upon a dead baby genet. This tiny, beautiful creature had a large open wound in its chest, and could not have died more than a few hours previously.
Both occurrences were sad for all those present. The colobus in Shimoni forest are threatened on all fronts by encroachment and deforestation, and to see one so young die (probably due to something as simple as falling from its mother) is very sad. And although genets are not a threatened species, they are rare in Shimoni forest (and particularly stunning animals).


Those two finds had one thing in common. We dug a hole for each of the recently deceased, and buried them! I would be lying if I said there was no sentimentality involved, but the scientists in us had a higher motive. We planned on going back there and uncovering the skeletons, allowing us a rare look at the anatomy of both animals. You would struggle to get such a close look at an infant colobus and baby genet, and then to have a good old look at their skeletons!

Matt brushing

So today was the day that we headed back out there, to the two spots that we have walked past almost daily, but this time with the intention of revisiting our old friends. We got to the colobus grave first, put our bags down and started digging, very carefully with out hands. I was surprised how easily we found it (the spot was marked with a pile of coral), but within minutes we were starting to get tiny little bones in the handfuls of dirt. We dug very carefully, getting handfuls of soil and slowly sifting through until we came across no more. I knew the bones were going to be small, but I think we were all surprised quite how miniscule they actually were. By the end, we reckoned we had the majority of bones.

Genet claw and teeth and upper jaw

We then moved onto the second site, where we were to look for the genet. Again we found the pile of coral easily, and with slightly more confidence we began to dig. This hole was slightly deeper so it took a little bit longer to get to the bones, but we found them. Employing the same technique, we started to gather all the bones we could find. Much to our disappointment however, we only managed to find what we would guess to be approximately a third of the bones. We dug all around, and as deep as we could go but didn’t manage to find all of them. Whether they had been scavenged, had decomposed quickly, or had just evaded the sharp eyes of the would-be archaeologists, we will never know. We did find many of the main bones though, and got very excited when we discovered most of the upper and lower jaw with little teeth still attached!

Dirty, sweaty and with a sense of achievement, we headed back to base to try and put some order to what we had found. We are very pleased to have managed to put together the entire colobus skull, and the majority of the genet skull! We are going to purchase some super glue and rebuild them permanently, as well as back all the other bones onto cardboard so that people can have a closer look at these amazing little skeletons for a long time yet.

All colobus bones

For the colobus, we think we have found almost all of the ribs, the skull, the major bones of the arms and legs, sections of the fingers, shoulder joints and several vertebrae. For the genet, we have got most of the skull, the whole jaw (we think), some of the ribs, quite a few vertebrae (we assume the smaller ones are from the tail), the coccyx, the shoulder bones and some of the leg bones. I must point out however that none of us are experts in the field of animal anatomy or skeletal structure, and unfortunately none of our reference material here can give us much information. So I apologise in advance if our educated guesses are not entirely accurate, we are going to do some research and see what we can find. If anyone out there does know a bit about it, please do let us know!

I hope you enjoy the photos!




Anonymous said...

You're getting quite a museum going there Matt! Do you still have that smelly baboon skeleton we found??