Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Well, after a rather hectic few days of gathering supplies in Toliara, I am heading back to camp. Even though I really want to be back in the forest, its always hard to leave town. Leaving the net behind is like saying good-bye all over again, since its so much easier to communicate with you all online. Think I'll just have to start IMing with the lemurs.

Here are a few tidbits from camp:

Washing my dirty dirty laundry

Beans and rice

Goat in an ox cart

And then goat up a tree


My tent/ the market

Getting ready for a nap. I can now snooze on cement in 45+ degree heat!

and a lemur zombie

See you all in February :)


Today is Ron and my 12th Kissiversary. I can never remember the date of our wedding anniversary, so this is kind of our more celebrated landmark. Here we are circa 2000 looking like babies:

This post is dedicated to my sweet (in a very manly non-racist Chuck Norris kinda way) Ronman. The following are perhaps the Top Ten reasons I love him:

10. He takes care of me when I need it.
9. He lets me take care of him when he needs it.
8. He believes in me. Even when I don’t.
7. He encourages me to follow my dreams. My being in Madagascar for 9 months = case in point.
6. He puts up with Sammy in the freezer for months, in addition to many other occurrences that may cause others to question my sanity.
5. He goes f*&%ing bonkers when we are on holiday. He inevitably gets hurt, but I find it oddly adorable.
4. He loves me as much as I love him.
3. He is my biggest fan.
2. He makes me laugh. Even when I am crying.

And the number one reason I love Ron:
1. He is my best friend. I know it sounds cliché and lame, but its true. There is no one in this world that I would rather spend my days with.

Wish we were together today. Sniff, sniff.

On a somewhat related note, the following is what I just drove past in Toliara, Madagascar. Perhaps I should inform the vendor that Divx is now Sonic?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The many hats of Maron-y

Besides lemur research, I have many duties at camp that may or may not be within my sphere of experience. These include:

1. Scorpion slayer. There is literally a scorpion under every single rock. And there are rocks literally everywhere. I actually had one directly on my big toe while bathing (with a bucket of water and a cup), but thankfully did not get stung. Scorpions are the most dangerous critter in Madagascar, which is good (good because there are no lions) and bad (bad because they are everywhere and can put you into cardiac arrest). Like any good biologist, what do I do with said scorpions? Kill them. With a shovel. Lets hope karma does not exist.

A freshly slayed scorpio:

2. Chicken wrangler. It did take some getting used to, but I can now catch my own chickens and put them to bed. When I get close they make their "uhhh I am unsure and I am a chicken" noise and give me the stink eye. Then, they either run around in circles or sit down. If they sit, I can just pick them up. If they run around, I have to corral them back to their day pen (which they are never in during the day because they are chronically escaping) and then grab them. To bed they go!

Here is my favorite chicken, Stevie:

3. Death sniffer. Apparently I have the nose of a blood hound. I can smell death like nobody's business. I was even lucky enough to sniff out a wee dead baby lemur. "Lucky" in that I was able to clean up the carcass and keep the bones, which I can now use to potentially identify baby lemur bits consumed by lemur predators.

Awe, poor little dead baby maki:

4. Fecal expert. Seriously. I know every turd in that forest. Boy, after a sentence like that I sure feel like I took a wrong turn in life somewhere.

Fossa poop:

5. Track expert. This one might be my favorite. The animals all have forest paths that they use. Some paths are heavily traversed by all (think freeway) and some are species specific (think bike path).

Giant Malagasy Hissing Cockroach tracks:

5. Osteological consultant. This one just sounds good.

Here is a small piece of the occipital bone from a ring-tailed lemur, compared to an intact lemur skull:

6. Gas station. Yes, I have barrels of gasoline that I dispense with a water bottle. Carcinogen? Smeh. Flammable? Smeh.

Generator time. Doesn't the generator look "retro cool?" It says it is anyhow.

7. Arms surveyor. I was sick for a couple of days in camp and was taking a mid-morning nap when Bronwyn woke me up. "Um, Marni, there are men in camp with guns," she said. I replied, "Ok. Are they shot guns or Ak-47s?" Like it matters. Bronwyn didn't know, so I got up to take a look. They were in fact AK-47s, but everything was fine. The gandarme dudes were just looking for Omby thieves. Automatic weapons are everywhere here. In fact, yesterday I saw a man riding a bike with an AK-47 slung casually over one shoulder.

NO PHOTO- I figure its best not to push my luck here.

8. Bread maker/ egg cooker. Once a month, on Sunday, I make bannock and it is unbelievably good. Daily, I make fried eggs. This job is not without significant personal risk. Once, a piece of hot greasy partially fried egg flew out of the plan and, WHAP, stuck to my forehead. Ouchie!

Check out my poor burned forehead:

9. Fearless leader. When I say fearless, I really mean not-so-bright but eager to explore. And when I say leader, come on, what I really mean is bossy.

That about sums up the many hats of Maron-y. Which reminds me, that the name game continues. In Madagascar I am Maron-y:


Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (TNP) is in the southwest of Madagascar. My camp is about 10km inland from the Mozambique Channel, and maybe 1 km east of the Tsimanampetsotsa hypersaline lake. It is a really beautiful and bizarre forest, that literally kicks the s*%t out of me every single day I am there.

In the Natural History of Madagascar (Goodman and Benstead, 2003), Goodman said:

"This is a rather inhospitable zone, with its near lack of fresh water, impenetrable spiny bush, and razor sharp limestone outcrops."

For shiz. Additionally, on the conditions of TNP Braun and Yahnke (2010) state:

"Much of the vegetation has sharp spines and/or thorns, making it inhospitable to humans and difficult for researchers to navigate (emphasis added)."

Braun and Yahnke (2010) further note that animal behavior at TNP is 'difficult to document' because of rough terrain, and that the spiny vegetation is 'impossible to navigate'.

And they are correct. Oh, and did I mention it was hot? It is. F*%#ing hot. I have one camera trap photo with a temp of 55°C (131°F). The following photo of a shows a Harrier Hawk nest with a temerature of 53°C (127.4°F)- I can't find the 55 degree one at the moment. Just to put that in perspective, the hottest recorded temperature on earth is from Libya at a whopping 57.8°C (136.0°F).

So, its inhospitable, difficult, impossible, and f#@$ing hot. BUT, its also beautiful and the animals are fantastic. The lemurs can get around just fine and have all sorts of paths and routes throughout the "impossible" spiny vegetation. When they decided to move, I am comparably slow, but eventually I catch up to them again and again. And when its really hot, the lemurs sit in the shade and hug the bases of trees, which tend to stay cooler that anything else, well, cool as in 45°C can be. So I too sit in the shade and try to hug a tree. And drink about 7L of water. Seriously.

Here is some lemur tree hugging:

Now that I know the lemurs its hard to be away because I don't want to miss anything. Who's fighting with whom? Is 'Tumour' still popular with the ladies? Did baby 'Creature' or 'And The Brain' learn to alarm call yet? Did I miss it? Has the fossa been around?! Plus there are oodles of other critters to keep up with. Radiated tortoise, Harrier Hawk, the Bastards (ie Galidictis grandidieri), and of course my chickens.

That's all for now. Here is what might be my most exciting pic thus far...

Braun, S. and C. Yahnke. 2004. "Galidictis grandidieri" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 11, 2010 at

Goodman, S.M. 2003. Galidictis, Broad-striped Mongoose. In: The Natural History of Madagascar. Goodman SM, Benstead JP, editors. Chicago University Chicago Press.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

STDs and Dictators

I am pretty sure that the night before last I slept in the prostitutes' quarters of a hotel. Why, you might ask? Let's compare my room to the room Bronwyn and Meghan shared, which was at the same establishment.

Bronwyn and Meghan's room:
- is nice-ish
- has the bible in 4 languages (German, French, English and Malagasy, FYI)
- has several posters and papers stating that sexual tourism and the exploitation of children for sexual purposes will not be tolerated
- has a balcony, bed, two bedside tables, a table and two chairs, armchair, armoir and a full bathroom

My room:
- is not nice-ish.
- doesn't have a bible in any language, let alone four languages
- has no information on sexual tourism or the exploitation of children for sexual purposes
- has a bed, shower, sink, and beside table, but no toilet

And, the piece de la resistance:
- several packages of condoms on the bedside table.

Icky. Really icky. I did sleep exceptionally well, although, I think I may have contracted syphilis in the night.

In other news, yesterday was an impromtu celebration in Madagascar- Dictator Day! The DJ-turned-coup-leader-turned-self-appointed-president declared it a national holiday in an effort to show people how well the country is doing with him in charge. Everyone had the day off, there were pick-up trucks cruising abound town with full orchestras playing in the bed, and fireworks to boot. Forced fun for all!

OK, tomorrow I promise to tell you about my super fantastic research and all things camp life.


Friday, December 10, 2010


I am back in Toliara and it is scary. Not because Toliara is actually scary, but because Toliara is not the forest, and the hoards of people are not lemurs. Its busy and stinky and frenetic. Even facebook is too much for me at the moment. There are way too many options and the status update is way too difficult to find. It is really good to have access to internet though, along with nearly ANYTHING I want to eat. Ah, fruit.

The following is a pic that Bronwyn took of me while out in the forest. I am right in the center. Notice the lemur off to the left side.

I took this pic out of the car window. Very very different than forest life!

Anyhow, here is a blurb out of my journal from a while back...

Nov 4, 2010. 1:11pm. Camp.
I’m sitting in camp doing some data entry and just noticed that Bakira and Fiti are butchering Porky, who is/was my sick chicken. Poor thing is/was terribly sick and couldn’t even stand. I looked at her before lunch and tried to give her some water, but she wouldn’t drink. She had some sort of blockage in her gut. The staff and Felicien are going to eat Porky, but there is no way I am eating a sick animal.

Nov 4, 2010. 1:18pm. Camp.
Porky update. I went up to take a look at here carcass to see if I could determine what was wrong. Her carcass is now in a serving dish and is completely swarming with flies, which totally grosses me out. Bakira and Fiti were washing something off in the bushes and I asked to see because I thought it was perhaps the ‘sick’ part of her. In fact, it was an egg covered in layer upon layer of necrotic tissue. Poor thing had an egg stuck in her…well wherever eggs get stuck in chickens. Bakira was actually trying to wash off the egg with some water and a machete. Makes sense. The putrid stuck-in-a-dying-chicken egg was destine to be added to our bowl of fresh eggs. OMG. We noticed that Porky wasn’t well when we first got back from Toliara, which was three weeks ago. So the putrid stuck-in-a-dying-chicken egg could have been that old too. OMG. One of us would have gotten very ill from that nasty nasty egg. I was rather emphatic and said that we did not want to eat that egg. Bakira seemed a bit surprised, but I offered it to him and he also said no way. So gross.

Here are a couple of chicken pics from the happier times:

BTW I am definitely off meat here. I had been open to eating chicken, because it is generally killed shortly before you eat it. Thus, it is fresh and not likely to contain Salmonella or E. coli or like bacterium. The other meat sits around in the hot sun in open markets and has flies swarming on it for who knows how long, so there is no way I am eating that. Recall that flies also swarm poop, and poor dead baby Maki before they swarm on your carcass/dinner. No way no how I’m eating that. But now that I’ve seen the swarms on my freshly killed Porky, ick, I am totally grossed out and will not be having any chicken either. Yuck.

BTW2- I spilled gasoline all over myself a few minutes ago. Only in Madagascar would I refill a water bottle with gasoline, fill my generator and manage to douse my pants an foot in gasoline. Just saying.

Nov 4, 2010. 8:41pm. Tent.
Another crazy day. Had a freakin SCORPION on my big toe. I was in the shower and about to finish up when I looked at my foot and saw it there all ready to sting. I can’t remember, but apparently I screamed and somehow got it off of my foot without being stung. Close call. Too close