Saturday, February 12, 2011

Emergency-ish Preparedness

My god, the transition to city life gets a bit more difficult with each passing month I spend in the forest. This morning, I couldn't remember how to print at the internet cafe or how to get money out of a bank machine. And there is no way I could decide on what to have for breakfast. Menu? Choices? Lanto (my fantastic cook) just makes my food. I don't have to decide. Menus are tricky. And potentially out to get me. Anyhow, here is another journal excerpt:

Feb 3, 2011. 10:59am. Camp. Bug net.
For once, I actually knew what to do in an emergency-ish situation. Normally, when something happens that requires a quick response, I draw a total blank. Which is really bad timing. Good thing there are no large carnivores in Madagascar, anymore. One time Ron got his fingers stuck in the garage door at the Uvic Aquatic Unit- we both worked there taking care of fish and assorted hydrophilic critters. At the Aquatic facility, there was this big garage door that we opened so that the indoor tanks would get sun and air. Problem being that the door didn't have any handles, so you'd have to pull it down by grabbing onto a panel and remember to mind your pinkies. Well, Mr. Accident himself (aka Ron) went to pull down the door and just didn't quite pull his fingers out quick enough, so four fingers on his right hand (of course) got stuck and squished between two panels. He let out a horrible shriek and with his fingers still wedged between two large pieces of metal, I asked," what should I do?" I simply had no idea how to make this situation better. He told me to help him get the door back up and thus his fingers free, which I did. Yuck, his poor finger tips were as flat as little pancakes. Clearly, his hand was going to need some medical attention, and although I knew this, again I had no idea how to proceed. Not a clue. So again, in my bewilderment, I asked, "what should I do?" Call for a medic and get me some ice, Ron said. Ah! Brilliant. That seemed like exactly the thing to do. Case in point, I freeze up in emergency situations.

Earlier, I was in the forest following the Ilove lemur group when my assistant, Meghan, started calling my name in a tone that sounded emergency-ish. Luckily, I remembered how walk over to her. It turns out that one of the baby lemurs, "Creature", was stuck in a death ball. What is a death ball? There are these horrible plants here (Uncarina stellulifera) that create these horrible fruits, which are designed to stick to passers by as a means of seed dispersal. Fair enough. Everyone has to fitness to maintain. But the fruits of this horrible plant have 'petite harpoons' that stick onto your clothes/fur/skin/feathers and only become more stuck when you try to pull free.

Here is one of these horrible death ball creating fruits:

They are about the size of a tennis ball and are really difficult to get off once they/you are stuck. We use gardening shears to cut the spines which allows you to pick the harpoons out of your flesh. Sadly, they really are quite dangerous for animals who don't have gardening shears. The following photo is a giant "death ball", about a million horrible fruits stuck to each other and the remnants of what becomes of small animals when they encounter the fruits. My sharpie and boot are there for scale and all those long white things are the long bones of animals that got stuck, permanently, on the death ball. Poor things.

We actually dissected that death ball and pulled out a plethora of bats, reptiles, birds, etc. L to R: Meghan, Bronwyn, Lanto and Bakira.

So, when Meghan had the urgent sounding tone, it was because one of "my" baby lemurs, Creature, was stuck in a small death ball! Meghan, who is a first aid guru and seemingly always knows what to do, was a bit stunned and asked me "what should we do?" Like any non-panicking level headed person I whipped off my outer shirt and said "I have to catch her." I got close to Creature who was writhing and screeching, likely both in pain but also in fear because I was in her personal space and presumably (in her mind) about to have her for lunch (I never eat lemurs for lunch [just so we're clear]). Creature had a look of utter terror in her pretty little eyes. I tossed my shirt over the poor little thing and grabbed her- animals are much easier to catch/hold if you cover their faces. She screamed and screamed and the lemur group screamed and screamed and her mother screamed and screamed. Her mom, "the Patient" was darting around and looked at me in a 'I knew you were a dick' kinda way. I asked Meghan to get to work on snipping the spines and removing each of the harpoons that were lodged in Creature's skin. Three of her wee limbs were stuck together and then stuck to her belly and her tail was then stuck to all of her limbs and belly. After 15 minutes or so, the lemur group started to move on, although the Patient continued to cry. Creature held still and even though she had a number of small wounds and was covered in her own poop (as was I [covered in lemur poop that is, just to be clear]) she was ok. Once every last harpoon was out, I found Creature's equally traumatized mom, let her go, and left them to de-stress on their own.

Here is a pic of the Patient and Creature:

Phew. So maybe I only have problem solving skills for animals? Or maybe its when I'm in the southern hemisphere? Or maybe I just got lucky.

Tomorrow, I promise to be more succinct when I droll on about my ups and downs of late.


  1. Wonderful story! You are a lemur hero!
    You're experiencing some very weird and wicked southern Madagascar plant/insect species, which possibly nobody else has experienced in the same way.
    Do you also have those horrid fuzzy pod things at the site that will release toxic hairs if you happen to brush by them?
    And...if you have a group named I Love Lemurs, I'm assuming you have a Lucy and Ricky?