In search of the lemurs of Madagascar
Remembering King Julien and his band of merry lemurs in the Disney movie Madagascar. Here is an account of Dr Mita Nandy’s journey to Madagascar, the land of surprises and amazing creatures.
Following the dictates of my passion to explore the unseen, we visited Madagascar in mid-June 2018. The red island of Madagascar is home to many amazing animals found nowhere else on Earth.
My trip was primarily to see the Lemurs, the most threatened mammal group on Earth. Although Madagascar has more than 110 species of lemurs, 90% of them are facing extinction and many species have already gone extinct. Lemurs are crucial to the survival of the island’s flora and fauna; they help disperse seeds from all of the variety of fruits they eat. Without the work of the lemurs, the forests would die. Unfortunately, Madagascar also faces a cycle of crushing poverty. Malagasy people have increasingly taken to slash-and-burn farming in an effort to earn money. When people have almost the bare minimum of access to food, education and health, conservation is not easy. Moreover, climatic changes, along with the absence of wild corridors to link fragmented forests, result in lemurs rarely having the option to move somewhere new, predisposing them to serious harm of complete eradication.
During our 4 days trip to Madagascar’s eastern rainforests, especially the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, gave us multiple opportunities to watch these amazing creatures in their own habitat. We spotted 15 species of varying shapes, sizes and colours; ranging from adorable to curious to cantankerous and stubborn.
We spotted a family of indris also called the Babakoto, the largest and fluffiest of lemur species, approx. 3 feet in height with a stubby tail, staring down at us from tall treetops and calling in a series of loud eerie wailing calls The diademed Sifaka jumping from branch to branch could be readily distinguished from all the other lemur species by its characteristic markings of grey and golden hue in its moderately long, silky and luxuriant coat. We got a few glimpses of the bamboo lemurs characterized by a grey-brown fur. Their muzzles were short and their ears round and hairy. Due to dense damp and dark rain forests, photography here was not good. The same day during our moonlit night walk, we spotted the world’s smallest primate, the doe-eyed mouse lemur.
Lemurs not only share our trait of opposable thumbs, but they’re also intelligent. In Vakona Park they constantly followed us and at times perched on our shoulders searching our bags for food. The curious black-and-white ruffed lemurs kept us entertained with all sorts of acrobatic moves in the expectation of receiving some fruits. In the Palmerium Island Reserve, we saw some newer species like the black lemurs, the crowned lemurs, the red-bellied lemurs, the red ruffed lemurs, the brown lemur and the great bamboo lemur. In Lemur park about 25 km from the capital Antananarivo we came across the Ringed-tail lemurs, the only lemurs that prefer to be on the ground. We found them in groups of 4to10 either eating flowers or grooming each other with their double tongue. The crowned Sifaka and the Mongoose lemurs were found busy feeding on soft bamboo stems The Coquerels, also known as the brown and white Sifaka lemurs hopping two-legged dance across the forest floor was an amazing sight to behold.
Human beings have grown apart from these primates for approx. 60 million years but one look at a lemur reminds us how much we still have in common.
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