One month from today I will be heading back to the United States. Reflecting on my time so far, I have several points to make. First off, following lemurs all day has been more physically demanding than I thought it would be, but somehow my body has been able to adapt. My legs are a lot stronger than they were that first long day in Talatakely, and I even hiked a 7 hour journey to the latest camp site. My stomach, however, is not as well adjusted. I’ve gotten a few stomach infections since I’ve been here, but I am better now thanks to some antibiotics I brought with me. Also, I am craving all sorts of foods, like bagels and tex-mex, that can be so easily found at home but are nowhere in sight in Madagascar. I caught myself the other day thinking about all of the terrible things I would do for a breakfast burrito.I guess this is a part of the culture shock, which is much stronger when out in the field, but I do find this to be the hardest transition fortunately. Branching away from physical transitions, I am actually very comfortable being surrounded by people of other cultures, and I’m also getting better at speaking Malagasy (but no progress whatsoever on speaking French). I find myself actually being able to figure out what’s going on sometimes when the guides are speaking. It is sometimes overwhelming though not knowing exactly what is going on, and it helps to ask the wonderful malagasy student on our team, Noro, to translate. It also helps that there are a several English-speaking researchers with me, and talking to them has helped me cope with some of the less appealing aspects of fieldwork in Madagascar, like having to poop in a literal shit hole. They have made me feel very comfortable as a part of the research team, who are now not only my fellow scientists but also close friends.
I think my favorite thing about my experience abroad so far in Madagascar is being in nature all of the time. I have not gone more than a week without being in the forest, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so awe-struck by all of the natural beauty here. I think I feel most at peace when hiking around in the forest. Even when there are more rainy days than sunny ones, and I am slipping in the mud down a steep slope or getting caught in vines, at the end of the day I am so blessed to be here. I love all of the novelty of the rainforest, because every day holds something different. No matter what, I always have a new interaction with wildlife, from a new interesting insect to seeing a beautiful bird. Just the other morning, which was dissapointingly void of lemurs, I saw the most incredible praying mantis, which looked just like leaves! The skinks darting around the forest floor didn’t even notice their prey because it was so well camoflauged. Every day without fail, I have some sort of encounter like this, which keeps each day in the field interesting. I am always engaged, even after a month in the forest.
The beautiful primary forest of Ranomafana National Park
A preying mantis-not leaves!
And I haven’t even started to talk about the lemurs. I have had some unforgettable encounters this summer with the lemurs that I have been studying, the Milne-Edward’s sifakas. I have already written about some of the more formative ones, but this past week was probably my favorite excursion of the summer. Though not a part of the project, I had the opportunity to partake in an expedition to Mangevo, the most beautiful, pristine part of Ranomafana National Park, to capture and release the new sifakas found there. These never-before-studied individuals are examined for their health and collared for identification in hopes to add them to the ongoing studies of sifaka in the park. I was lucky enough to see them up close with the vet (who drugged them and administered the tests), and I helped record the measurements and physical conditions of the sifaka when they were captured. It was incredible seeing all of the details and nuances of the lemurs up close. Their hands are so strangly shaped and padded, with one long nail protruding from the side and human-like finger nails. At the end of their incredibly long legs are feet shaped perfectly for grasping branches.I also got to see their tooth combs (which they use for grooming) when the vet did the dental exam.
The vet, Haja, taking measurements of a very doped up lemur!
They were drugged for several hours, so I had the chance to hold one before she had her collar put on! Her name is purple green-cross, and she is so incredibly fluffy. She must take great care of her coat because her fur was very soft. She had these light amber eyes that seemed slightly aware of what was going on, but she never really put up a fuss (which means the drugs worked!) After following the sifakas around for the past month, it was nice to take a break from seeing them from an observer’s standpoint and being able to see them up close and even hold ones in my arms.As I get more and more into conservation biology, these experiences are strengthening my desire to help these endangered animals. Now I can say I have held a lemur; it was everything I could have hoped for-and more!
Holding a wild sifaka-they smell like maple syrup!
The drugs take several hours to wear off, and night was quickly approaching. Putting a drugged lemur out in the forest at nightfall is a bad idea, so we had to keep them overnight. Additionally, they can’t be left outside because they would be easy prey for fosa. So, they were put in bags (which is standard protocal for captures) and distributed amongst the researchers to spend the night in our tents. Purple green-cross was given to me, and I had the chance to spend the night with her. I literally slept with a lemur! I could not believe that this endangered animal was given into my care, so I took every opportunity to make sure that she was as comfortable as she could be in the bag in my tent. I gave her a nice comfy spot in my tent next to my sleeping bag so I could keep an eye on her, and I read her a bed-time story. She seemed to calm down afterwards, and after a few contact calls (sounds like “mm”) she quickly went off to sleep. I woke up frequently throughout the night to check on her, and one time I snapped awake when I heard a scraping sound. I thought it was a fosa trying to get in my tent, but I realized the strange sound was only my companion, who was self-grooming. She slept the whole rest of the night through, and I waited until she had woken up in the morning to take her out for release. Seeing her brought back to her original site of capture was bittersweet; it was sad to see the lemur I had the strongest connection with leave, but I was happy to have her back where she belonged-hopping across the tall trees of Mangevo. As she leaped out of the bag onto a tree trunk, she looked at me one last time with those beautiful amber eyes and then went off to rejoin her family. It was probably the most powerful and emotional experience of my life. And to top it all off, it took place in one of the most beautiful forests I have ever been to, with its tall trees, hanging vines and incredible viewpoints.