Faculty conversations: Kay Holekamp
Kay Holekamp, a world-renowned expert on hyenas, recently was named a fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science – an honor she said she always hoped to achieve.
“It’s a recognition by my fellow scientists that the work I do is interesting and represents a substantial contribution to understanding nature,” said Holekamp, University Distinguished Professor of zoology.
Holekamp received the honor for her contributions to animal behavior, particularly for her work with hyenas.
“We have several lines of research going on at the moment,” Holekamp said. “One that is of particular interest to a lot of people is work we are doing on the evolution of intelligence and cognition in animals.”
Holekamp said her team measures intelligence by testing animals’ ability to solve problems in the field. Animals are given a puzzle box and are observed while trying to open the box. They are also studying cooperation and communication between animals like hyenas.
One of her newest tools is a robotic hyena that was made for her team by engineering students, although she hasn’t had a chance to test it in the field yet. Holekamp said it will be used to allow her researchers to more closely observe the hyenas’ behavior.
Holekamp has been on the faculty at MSU since 1992 and she said the thing she has come to love the most about the university is her colleagues.
“My colleagues are really the most wonderful people imaginable,” she said. “We have some really cool science going on here, particularly in the domains of ecology and the evolution of behavior.”