Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Six Kinds of Lemur in One Day

We’d come to Andasibe for one major reason—because this is the place where the Indri Indri live. They don’t thrive in any other place. Not in zoos or wildlife parks, not in research facilities. Not even in other parts of Madagascar.  The morning after we arrived, while we were enjoying fresh guava juice at breakfast outside and chatting with Henriette, our hostess, we got our first indication of how the Indri Indri sound calling to each other in the distance.  Our lodge was probably five kilometers or more from where the nearest ones were. They can be heard for miles, keeping track of each other by sound.  Once we’d hiked into Andasibe, our guide, Desi, asked us to wait while he searched off the main trail for the nearest group of Indri Indri.  While we were waiting silently, we heard them calling again.  The sound is a little faint in the video above, though it wasn’t very loud in person, either.  There’s nothing to see in the video—aside from what an average section of trail looks like—just the eerie sound of the Indri Indri in the distance.


Desi came  back, and took us to the family he’d found—we got quite close before we spotted them, and they were very curious about us. Desi tried to coax them into calling in response to an mp3 file he he’d recorded on his cell phone, but they weren’t buying it.


When they finally did begin calling to each other, and it was surprisingly loud, and although we knew it wasn’t, it sounded much more like an alarm call than the eerie music it had seemed at breakfast.


In many ways they are completely unlike any other lemurs—they are the only species in their Genus.  They have a mere stub of a tail, only four teeth, and weird ones at that:


We saw a lot of other pretty wildlife in Andasibe, but most of it didn't compete with the Indri Indri—not even  this tiny gecko we spotted on our way out.  We took almost 450 pictures that day, and it was very hard to pick the top ones from so many good candidates.


After we hiked back out of the park we drove to Mantadia, where we had a picnic lunch.  While we were driving in we spotted grey bamboo lemurs, and very briefly a golden sifaka, but it wasn’t enough of a sighting to even whip the camera out. Still we were excited to have seen so many lemurs already. 
While we were eating our lunch, Desi, who’d hiked on into the park to reconnoiter, came back and asked us if we’d like to see some red bellied lemurs not far away.  This announcement was met with much excitement amongst the guides and drivers hanging around the parking lot, including our jaded guide/driver Dorique (who had been doing this for a while, and didn’t get excited for just any lemur).


They were very cute, cuddled into a tight cluster, and staring at us through the trees wide-eyed and watchful. Apparently they are harder to find, and rarely this close to the park entrance. Much like our whole trip—heck our whole year—we had gotten lucky.


Our luck held for the rest of the afternoon while we trooped around Mantadia, where we also got another chance to see the Golden Sifaka, which not only was incredibly photogenic, but kind enough to sit in some pretty fantastic lighting as well.

Hi there.

Lana also spotted this unusual hatless, gaiter-footed photographer; apparently he’s an introduced species.


We also spotted some of the common brown lemurs—common or not, they have become some of our favorites, with their pig- or pug-like snorting call.  We saw a number of flycatchers before we finally managed to get a sharp image of one.  They rarely sit still for more than a fraction of a second, so they were beautiful to watch, but challenging to photograph.


After walking what seemed to be the long way around to get back to the car, we headed for a place called Lemur Island, which we had planned to visit the day before but ran out of time because our plane from Morandava had been late.  Lemur Island can be a bit controversial, because it’s a place where lemurs are habituated to people. When we had a similar experience on Nosy Koomba, we felt bad about the experience, because it wasn’t clear that the animals were being well cared for and managed.


Thankfully, Lemur Island was completely different. It’s an island, but only barely. You get in a canoe, which someone then gives a shove, and you drift across the “moat” to the island proper. Lemurs are notoriously unhappy about water, so this moat you could easily wade across was enough of a fence to keep them there. Why keep them isolated on an island? A lot of them have either previously been pets and been rescued, or were significantly injured to the extent that they’re unable to be released back into the wild.  Some of them are very curious and food motivated, and some of them are much more aloof, and prefer to watch from the upper reaches of the forest on the island.


The gray bamboo lemur was one of the more curious and gregarious species we met that day, in particular on Lemur Island. They seemed to be the most banana motivated things we had ever met.  And adorable to boot.


If, for whatever reason, you have never seen Lana deliriously happy, then here is the best possible example of what that looks like.


If Lana looks puzzled occasionally, she's reacting to the sounds of a nearby group of lemurs in the trees.


Once they eat whatever banana you have, they will search for any salt.  Their tongues are not rough like a cat’s, nor wet like a dog’s.  Just very soft.


Their hands (paws?) are also very soft, with small pads and nothing sharp or claw-like whatsoever. This one decided Lana’s shoulder and head were a very nice perch, and it just sat there contentedly.  Did we mention that they don’t smell bad?  No musk, not even a gamey smell.


The expression on this lemur’s face as it’s sitting on David’s shoulder is a good example of why we love common brown lemurs. They look a little bit goofy, they snort and snuffle, but they’re incredibly gentle and curious as well.


This will probably be Lana’s Facebook profile pick until we go back to Madagascar again.  It’s probably not physically possible for her to smile any wider than she is in this photo.


So much crazy fun.


David was taking most of the pictures, and wouldn’t have volunteered to hold a handful of overripe banana even if he wasn’t already holding his large camera.  Despite not having any food, he soon found he had stereo lemurs.  They quickly discovered his hat was a good source of salt, but mostly they just sat there.


Lemurs don’t often drink water (they get most of the water they need from the fruits and leaves they eat), but these brown lemurs have figured out how to scoop water out of a tree stump for a little extra. After all that banana and salt, anyone would be thirsty.


Speaking of lemurs and water, this was one of the things you have to be careful about when you’re looking for and at them. Every once in a while, just for fun or if they think you’re too close, or they’re lightening the load before jumping to a higher branch, they’ll just drop a little “rain” your direction. We never took a direct hit, but did manage to capture it in action. While the common brown lemurs were very interested in us and what we might have for them, the white-ruff necked lemur wasn’t so interested in a meet and greet, at first.


But then one of them started to show off his acrobatic skills, and soon thereafter began to pose like a professional.


By our count we saw six species of lemurs in one day, the most we had seen yet. And to not only be able to see them, but to have them touch us (lick us even!) was one of the best moments of our whole year.