I got to help dissect a hyena today. Unbeknownst to many, Berkeley has a hyena colony. It was started two or three decades ago with ten spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). Four or five of those founding members are still alive, but they're all in zoos now. However, 34 of their offspring are still here, in large and well-hidden outdoor facility that many long-time Berkeley residents and students know nothing about. It is easily the largest concentration of hyenas anywhere in the world outside of Africa. As Forrest Gump said, "That's all I got to say about that."
This hyena is a 15-year-old female named Kodiak. According to Walker's Mammals of the World, spotted hyenas have lived to the age of 41 in captivity in captivity, but in the wild many hyenas do not make it past their 15th birthday. So as hyenas go, Kodiak had had a long and happy life. Unfortunately, she developed a dental abscess that eventually caused her to stop eating, and she was euthanized. Other researchers had dibs on the brain and internal organs, so we got her brainless and eviscerated. It would have been cool to dissect the whole head--evidently hyenas have wacky big sinuses for carnivores--but beggars can't be choosers.
The beast came to us through the kind offices of my good friend Alan Shabel, who is in Tony Barnosky's lab and works on many aspects of African ecology, especially the paleoecology of robust australopithecines. Alan mainly wanted the bones, and we needed to get the animal torn down in a single day. The first step was to skin it. Above I am working with (l. to r.) Russ Dedon, Ashley Lipps, and Sally Pine. Ashley and Sally were also present for the rhea dissection, but Sally was sick and couldn't scrub in. This time she was feeling great and anxious to get her hands dirty.
Here the skin is coming off. There was a lot of subcutaneous and intermuscular fat, and some pretty thick fascia over the muscles as well.
This animal was just terrifyingly muscled. Put your hands on either side of your head and clench your jaw, like you're biting down on something. Those muscles you feel bulging on the sides of your head are your temporalis muscles, the primary jaw-closers. The temporalis muscles on this hyena were as big around as my wrists. Hyenas eat bone, literally chew it up, and they have the muscles and teeth to make that happen.
Above you can see the headless neck sticking out to the left. The neck was like a fifth limb, only larger and more heavily muscled than any of the rest. Honestly, this thing's neck was almost the size of one of my thighs. I've seen lots of dead dogs and cats, and I've never seen anything like it. It was like the neck of a small horse had been grafted onto the body of a large dog.
After we skinned the animal we started detaching limbs to speed up the skeletonizing process. Here fellow Padianites Randy Irmis and Sarah Werning are working on their respective chunks. Sarah was here for the rhea but Randy missed it, much to his chagrin. He was in Argentina at the time, chasing early dinosaurs. Probably a fair trade.
More piecemeal dissection: (l. to r.) Betsy Bamberger, Jeannie Bailey, and Alan working on limbs.
While the rest of us worked on the head or limbs, Russ and Sally defleshed the axial skeleton. It's a slow and thankless job, but they don't look too put out.
It's funny how the apparent size of an object changes depending on what you place it next to. This hyena leg looks a little more impressive in Sally's hands.
Alas, poor Kodiak. We knew her, readers. A bitch of infinite hunger, of most excellent construction; she hath devoured me in her imagination a thousand times; and now, how devoured in my imagination she is! My curiosity rises at it. Here hung those lips that have laughed at me I know not how oft. Where be your yelps now?