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In 1896, taxidermist Carl Akeley ventured to Somalia on a research expedition with Field Museum scientists, and procured a quartet of striped hyenas (among many other things). For more than six decades, these taxidermied mounts sat in an unfinished diorama case - and we wanted to do something about it! Fast forward to last year, when we launched our Indiegogo campaign, "Project Hyena Diorama." Today, thanks to more than 1,500 donors, 50+ staff, viewers of The Brain Scoop, and many many more supporters who shared and promoted Project Hyena Diorama, the Field Museum is celebrating the opening of its first full-scale habitat diorama in more than six decades.

We COULD NOT have done this without your help! This was such a huge undertaking, and it was all made possible by passionate learners and curious folks from all over the world. Thank you!

Thanks to Dr. Larry Heaney for taking the time for this interview!

To check out the campaign:
https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-hyena-diorama

See more updates on tumblr:
http://thebrainscoop.tumblr.com/search/project+hyena+diorama

Check out more photos of the diorama on The Field Museum's Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153029209632273.1073741850.22202087272&type=3

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Come hang out in our Subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/thebrainscoop/
Twitters: @ehmee
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thebrainscoop
Tumblr: thebrainscoop.tumblr.com
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Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera, Graphics:
Brandon Brungard

Exhibits team:
Gorge Alejandre, Alvaro Amat, Gretchen Baker, Alex Berez, Daniel Breems, Jean Cattell, George Chavez, Sarah Crawford, Aaron Delehanty, Ben Dimock, Jason Gagovski, Marie Georg, Hector Gonzalez, Jaap Hoogstraten, Danilo Kajevic, Matt Matcuk, Chris McGarrity, Susan Neill, Mike Paha, Shelley Paine, Taylor Peterson, Susan Phillips, William Test, Kate Ulschmid, Emily Ward, Si Watson, Emily Woodworth, and Christina Yang.

Research, conservation, and science team:
Paul Brunsvold, William Burger, Armand Esai, Lisa Goldberg, Ron Harvey, Larry Heaney, Crystal Maier, Alan Resetar, Christine Giannoni, Bill Stanley.

Communications, fundraising, legal and publicity:
Rachel Dunbar, Emily Waldren, Sarah Ebel, Anni Glissman, Brad Dunn, Charles Katzenmeyer, Dawn Martin, Debby Moskovitz, Erin King, Graham Troyer-Joy, Kate Golembiewski, Lori Breslauer, Lucille Carver, Ray DeThorne, Tom McNamara

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This episode is supported by and filmed on location at:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
(http://www.fieldmuseum.org)
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Emily: Hey! We are here at the future site of the striped hyena diorama that was made possible by Brain Scoop fans and fans of the Field Museum and we're here with Dr. Larry Heaney. Larry, what is your title here at the museum and what has been your role with the hyena diorama?
Dr. Heaney: I'm curator of mammals, Negaunee Curator of mammals at the museum and I've been content specialist for the diorama. We're talking about exactly what it is that people are going to be seeing here in terms of the implied behavior of the hyenas and their interaction with the little bat-eared fox that's hiding around behind the rocks.

Emily: Right.

Is the configuration that they're in or have been depicted in, is that accurate? Is that what you would see, if you were in Somalia observing striped hyenas?
Dr. Heaney: Right. With this particular grouping, what we've got is four hyenas. One of them is an adult male, one is a juvenile male and two of them, so far as we can tell, are adult females. These are animals that live in very dry, open, habitats. They're in a really, really harsh environment. Low density, low biological productivity and so the social groupings of these hyenas are small. Typically what you would see is an adult female with one or two young. Occasionally, the male that is associated with the female will spend time with her and the young ones also, so that part of it actually is is OK. The one aspect that's a little unusual here is that there are two individuals that seem to be adult females. It's possible that one of those actually could be an older female and the other adult is her daughter, but unrelated striped hyena females do not tolerate each other.
Emily: Do you think that was a consideration that Akeley would have had when he was procuring these animals or do you think he just kind of took what was available?
Dr. Heaney: They were using what information they had but in 1896 we knew almost nothing about the biology of these animals. Most of what was known was based on spotted hyenas. They're more abundant, there had been more people watching them and so they probably were influenced by the fact that spotted hyenas were known to live in larger, multi-female groups. That's my best guess as to why they ended up portraying it this way.
Emily: And so what about the bat-eared fox that the exhibitions department has also decided to put in? That was not part of the original grouping.

Dr. Heaney: Yeah, it was not part of the original idea and, actually, I was one of the people who is pushing hard to have that included.

Emily: Oh really?

Dr. Heaney: Yeah, they do occur in the same habitat. That animal was another one that was collected as part of this Somali expedition. Akeley is the one who did the taxidermy mount, so it actually belongs in this grouping.

Emily: And I know, like, in addition to the Bat-Eared Fox, there is talk of including a dung beetle that would have been found there. There are vultures being depicted. And so all of these things they've consulted collection managers or researchers or scientists to make sure that every action in this diorama is deliberate.
Dr. Heaney: Yep. Absolutely, absolutely, it is all entirely accurate it's all things that either the members of the expedition actually did see at this time, or saw at some point during the expedition.
Emily: Do you think that dioramas are still educationally valuable?
Dr. Heaney: Absolutely, and particularly when they're done as beautifully as the ones that are here. People want to see the real thing. They value that. Yes you can watch these things on, you know, on TV... but seeing something on a screen is not the same as standing here and seeing the actual animals depicted in their actual habitat so somebody can come in here and even if they were not to read a single label, if they only stood here and looked at the exhibit, looked at this diorama, they would learn things about hyenas and about the Somalian desert where they live that they would not be able to get any other way. I think it's a fabulous way to learn and if you walk through this hall of Asian mammals and stop and take a couple minutes to look at each one, by the time you leave here, you will have an understanding of what the natural environment of virtually all of Asia is like. Which is fabulous!
Emily: Yeah.

As we know that the habitat and environment of these lands are changing, do you think their importance is going to increase?

Dr. Heaney: This will be one of the, I think, premier ways for people to understand what these places actually looked like and existed as for thousands of years before humans came along and put their big footprint on top of everything. Now, hopefully, this will help inspire people to value this natural habitat, to value the organisms, to want to learn more about them, to become excited about them and therefore want to protect them. That's what we always hope for. We want people to learn and enjoy and appreciate and therefore decide that they want to do something to keep these places and to keep these animals.
Emily: It all comes down to, like, my, I don't know, my joy that the Field Museum feels so strongly about this that we have research staff and scientists and artists who are excited about it and that it was made possible with the help from this strange little YouTube channel, called The Brain Scoop. I think it's great and I think the people at home who helped make this happen too will be really happy to know that it's got your stamp of approval.
Dr Heaney: It's really cool. You guys did great work.

[Brain Scoop theme starts and dies]

Emily: BUT WAIT! before we roll the credits I just want to take a minute to again, say thank you all so much for helping us to make the project hyena diorama a reality, whether you donated a dollar or helped us promote or share our campaign. The last eight months have been really incredible at the Field Museum. We had more than 50 staff members from all different departments come together to make this thing a reality and it would not have happened without your help and support. So thank you so much for making this dream come true for us and I hope someday you'll get to come visit it and see it in all of its "hyena glory" and keep an eye out for the dung beetle. It's my favorite part. So without further ado project hyena diorama: