Call of the Indri

IndriiOf the many animals you’ve ever seen or heard in a zoo, you would never forget the Indri. If you could find one in a zoo, that is. They do not survive in captivity and are critically endangered with population numbers estimated to be well under 10,000, possibly as low as 1,000.

We were fortunate to see and hear a handful of these magnificent creatures (largest of the living lemur species) in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. I did not succeed in getting a very good recording of their beautiful, haunting voices, so I’ll link you to a Youtube video posted by Tribes Travel. Just click on the Malagasy name for the Indri, Babakoto, and you’ll be whisked away to the Madagascar rain forest (for a couple minutes anyway).

But today, I wonder how many of those voices have been silenced in the intervening months. This February, Madagascar authorities arrested Jean Yves Ratovoso, one of the leading wildlife officials whose duty it was to protect the Indri. They also seized the carcasses of 11 dead lemurs (10 Indri, 1 Diademed Sifaka). From the description of the location, I don’t believe it was in the exact same part of Andasibe we were in, but was nearby. Our guides names were Jacque and William, so likely we never met Jean Yves Ratovoso.

William_Jacque

Guides Jacque and William

I could sit here in the safety and comfort of my middle-class American existence, and denounce Ratovoso via my keyboard. But can I ever understand what he did? Poverty is rampant in Madagascar, even for those who earn a relatively reliable income from the tourism trade. Their resources are dwindling. Their society is changing, Fady (taboos) against killing or eating lemurs are no longer the deterrent they once were. Organized crime is there. And so, too, are foreigners willing to pay for a chance to eat a “forbidden” delicacy. As the natural habitats suitable for each species of lemurs are increasingly fragmented and encroached upon, their population decreases and their voices fade away. And even those who are sworn to protect them will violate that trust.

If you’re thinking of visiting Madagascar to see the lemurs, you should go soon, before the call of the Babakoto is only a fading echo.

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My favorite Madagascar photo

GrayBambooLemur1This little guy (gal?), a Gray Bamboo Lemur, charmed me right away. Banana in hand, looking straight at me, little pink tongue sticking out – you can’t get much more photogenic than this.

Our encounter took place on Lemur Island, near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park on the eastern side of Madagascar. It’s a small preserve, home to a variety of rescued lemurs. It requires a canoe ride to reach it – about a 60 second canoe ride – so that adds to the entertainment value.

Many of the lemurs are habituated to humans and are easily persuaded to come check you out. The Common Brown Lemurs were the most social, while some were a little more reserved (like this guy and the Black and White Ruffed Lemur). This Gray Bamboo Lemur the only one we saw of its species on the whole trip.

GrayBambooLemur2

You may wonder what he/she is doing in this photo. Seconds before, the guide smeared some more banana on the tree trunk, so the lemur is licking it off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here, the guide is offering him a fresh green bamboo shoot, which he spent a few seconds thoughtfully chewing on before deciding we humans weren’t that interesting anymore, and leaped away in small bounds from tree to tree.

 

 

 

Don’t try this at home, kids.

Sun, alcohol, and stupidity – I believe I alluded to that in my last blog post so many months ago. I’ve got no excuses for being so incredibly absent from my blog, other than sheer laziness, and certainly no excuses for that alcohol.

It was a beautiful, but hot September in Madagascar. The day before, we had flown south from Antananarivo (Tana), the capital city, to a private, tiny dirt airstrip, in two tiny planes. That’s an experience requiring a lot of weighing – of everything and everyone. No, really, they weighed each person and divided us up between the two aircraft, with assigned seating so that everything was properly balanced. We were picked up by our mini-bus driver who’d left Tana two whole days before us in order to get there on time.

RingtailsOur first full day excursion into Isalo National Park was a hike into Namaza Canyon, the first half of which didn’t have much shade until we reached a picnic area. Here, we had our one chance to see some Ringtails, the most famous lemur species. About half of us hiked the rest of the way into the canyon, our efforts rewarded with a beautiful little oasis.

oasis

While I definitely appreciated the shaded, cool atmosphere of our destination, I didn’t feel like I had gotten dehydrated on the way in. Or on our return trek. I drank plenty of water and never felt over-heated until near the very end, when my heart started beating really fast and I had the sudden urge to get back to the air-conditioned minibus. I pushed my way past a couple other people, probably a bit rudely, and hoofed it outta there.

Back in our beautiful stone chalet at the Relais de la Reine Hotel (one of two hotels who owns that dirt airstrip), my plan for a cool shower was aborted when I realized our laundry had not yet been returned. No clean clothes = no shower (why bother if I had nothing else to wear?) So, what did I do instead? Yep, you guessed it, I headed to the main building and the bar, and helped myself to a pint of Three Horses Beer, a local lager that is the country’s top-seller. I still didn’t feel dehydrated, but adding the alcohol, not to mention starting on a second pint, really wasn’t a good idea.

Abandoning the second beer at the dinner table, where I lasted for about five minutes before having to excuse myself, and ran to the little restroom just off the lobby to, you know, upchuck all that alcohol. (Apologies to the next woman who may have tried to use that facility.)

As I made my way back to the chalet, I paid little attention to the odd beauty of the orange glow dominating the darkened horizon, only momentarily wishing I had the energy to get my camera to capture the stunning landscape. Yes, the hotel was surrounded on three sides by grass fires that night. There were different opinions on the cause of the fires: either local farmers clearing land, local villagers unhappy with their percentage of the national park’s profits, or maybe cattle rustlers.

A couple of others in my tour group later shared some photos with me. I’ll try to arrange them here to give you a sense of what it was like. The thing that sticks in my mind the most is the number of hotel guests who were lounging outside, watching the fires, all seemingly unconcerned. It was odd to me because I remember the panic of wildfires here in Northern California (1991 Oakland Hills Fire, anybody??) It was surreal. I later learned there were a few worried people, primarily the owner of a private plane that was sitting at the airstrip. Most of the hotel staff was, in fact, out there keeping the flames away from the plane.

The rest of my night was not so entertaining. I got little sleep, running back and forth to the restroom. (I’ll spare you the details.) There were times where I felt so completely drained I didn’t think I had the strength to walk the few feet back to my bed, convinced I was going to drop to the floor at any second. My poor friend, and roomie, Bobbie, kept checking on me (as did our tour leader, Andre, who had what turned out to be the best remedy: charcoal tablets.)

I was completely useless the next day, staying sequestered in the chalet, while the others went on another hike (I missed the swimming hole!). Many thanks to the hotel staff who checked on me during the day and brought me soup and juice. They were all very kind. While I did recover enough to enjoy the second week of the trip, my appetite dropped drastically and I didn’t dare drink another beer until our very last night. I lost about five pounds. (I do NOT recommend this as a weight-loss strategy.)

As I said in my previous post, it’s possible this incident had something to do with my later illness, but who knows? It could’ve compromised my immune system, I suppose. Maybe breathing in smoke from the wildfires had something to do with setting off my asthma, but I’m thinking that would’ve had a more immediate effect rather than a delayed one. I’m just happy that it’s over with.

So now that it’s summer again, remember kids, don’t try this at home. Or on vacation.