Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Getting stinky

Lemurs are awesome for a number of reasons. 

The first being that females are dominant to males, which is very unusual within mammals, and makes female lemurs seem like little lemur-wonder-women. 

Another reason lemurs are awesome is that they use olfactory communication much more than flat-faced primates (monkeys, apes, humans) and love to make things stinky. Mostly with their butts. For real. 

Both male and female ring-tailed lemurs have angogenital scent glands, and males have additional scent glands near their armpits and spurs on their forearms that help with spreading around their armpit stink. All the scent glands produce a thick oily discharge that apparently smells marvelous (or very threatening) to a lemur, but we can't really smell because of our bloody flat faces. Oh, the haplorrhine curse...

Anyhow, because ring-tailed lemurs they are highly territorial both over habitat and each other, they pretty much walk around all day rubbing their stinky selves on things. And generally taking all this very seriously. 

The following are a few videos of lemurs getting stinky and making other things stink. While watching, try to envision your co-workers/friends/kids doing this around the office/pub/house. 

In this one a female ring-tailed lemur really gives a stick a sniff and then a good stink-down. 

Here, one a female gets a small tree good and stinky and then a male comes along, really checks out her fabulous stink, and then gives the tree his own eau de toilette, so to speak.

And in this classic, a couple of males have a good 'ole stink fight. Sorry about the obnoxious annotation, but if its any consolation, I was having a good time watching them in the -1) get stinky,-2) wave tail,-and-3) get a square head routine.

Awesome right?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Conservation sucks.

I must apologize in advance for the dark nature of this post. In general, it is a pretty sucky time to be a conservationist, and at the moment it is an extra sucky time for me, for reasons I have outlined below. I am cautiously hopeful that a lot of squawking and some persistence will pay off. Fingers crossed...

I spent the last few weeks at Tsimanampetsotsa National Park (TNP) in southwestern Madagascar. This is the same site where I lived for about 10 months while collecting data on lemurs for my doctoral dissertation. You may recall when Madagascar tried to kill me, or the fact that I survived this attempted assassination. TNP is the largest remaining spiny forest parcel in Madagascar and an important habitat for many bizarre endemic animals and plants. Like the eye-less, pigment-less cave fish. They will freak you out.

Blind, pigment-less cave fish (Typhloetris madagascariensis). We-eird.

Anyhow, before this trip, I was last at TNP in April of 2011, so two and a half years passed between my visits. And sadly, time has not been good to my critter friends or their forest home. Habitat degradation (primarily resulting from cattle grazing) continues at TNP but it is no longer the primary threat. Here are a few of the dramatic changes which have taken place that are placing the plants and animals in immediate peril:

1. The radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) which was plentiful in 2011, is at least locally extinct. These are harvested for the luxury bush meat trade and traditional medicines in Madagascar and Asia. In Madagascar these critically endangered beasties sell for about $5 US, and in China they go for up to $60000 USD. The black market trade of radiated tortoises has been a serious problem over the last 10 years or so, but TNP was a strong hold for the species because of local taboo against touching or eating forest animals, and the large and inhospitable nature of the landscape. But someone figured out that tortoises were present, and now the they are gone. Here is a little clip of me admiring a tortoise female in 2010:

2. Direct deforestation is rampant. People are just chopping down and hauling out trees. Even though TNP is a National Park and supposedly protected area. And of course, it is the big old trees which are useful/valuable, so the big ones are being selected and huge open gaps of desert are left. There is plenty of other evidence of human activity, such as fire pits, garbage, and tracks/scat of the dogs that people bring along. Other than occasional dog tracks, I had not previously seen any of this activity. Yowzer. I documented some of this, which you can see here:

And perhaps the worst of all,

3. The lemurs and the Little Bastards (i.e. Galidictis grandidieri) are being poached. Ring-tailed lemurs and Verreaux's sifaka are both endangered and the Bastards are critically endangered. They are being taken from TNP for the alternative meat trade ("alternative" because there are more cows than people in Madagascar, and meat or protein per se isn't limited, although food in general is), and each animal sells for about $2.50 US in neighboring ethnic regions or the larger cities of Madagascar. Southern Madagascar, until now, has been relatively free of hunting because of the local taboos, but outside pressures are now sufficient to warrant harvesting these mammals. My local friends report *hundreds* of smoked animals being brought out of the forest at a time. For two bucks a head. 

F*ck me. Honestly, I wouldn't have expected this in twenty years, let alone in a little better than two. 

How did this happen? Its complicated. Political instability and the breakdown of governmental processes. Increasing transientness with decreasing traditional values. Lack of community communication and conservation education. Non-existent protection. These all contribute. Not to mention extreme poverty and global demand for extractive resources. 

But I mustn't get carried away with the woes of the world and lose focus on the critters I know so well, who need help. The situation isn't completely hopeless. Tortoises could be reintroduced. Trees can be planted. In fact, hope to get some grant monies for emergency conservation work, so that I can head back to TNP in the next couple of months and get a better handle on what is happening and how to best address the needs of the people, forest, and animals. Fingers double crossed that my colleagues and I can accomplish some major changes in time. Because the alternatives suck. 

PLEASE do send ideas, suggestions, or simply virtual hugs. All are needed.

Here are a few lemur pics from this year that I just like.

Hanging on. Barely.

The lemur version of "can I help you?"

What a bad-ass. And check out the snaggle cap!

Awe. Its snuggle time.

PS I never said they were perfect.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What are the chances it is Tuesday?

I've been to Paris once before, but decided to visit it again to take an extended lay-over on my way back from Madagascar as a) long periods of air travel are increasingly smothering my will to live, and b) I wanted to visit the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle. So, today I woke up bright and early and ventured across the city to the museum. But when I got there, the doors were locked and the sign said "Fermeture Mardi." Having just returned from Madagascar and being rather out of touch with, well, everything (including the days of the week) I thought, "give me a break. What are the chances it is Tuesday?" Apparently 1 in 7. And today was my unlucky day. 

Fermeture Mardi. Sniff. 

This beast was outside the Natural History Museum. I have no idea what it is supposed to be, but I think I am afraid of carnivorous hippos.

Pretty creepy. 

 Oh well. I had a lovely day in Paris, none the less. I wandered around looking at whatever, ate lunch in a busy Parisian bistro, wandered and looked at stuff some more, and seriously considered but couldn't bring myself to buy some very expensive, very beautiful shoes.


Drool of a different color.

I really wanted/want those shoes, but I just couldn't reconcile spending the equivalent of about 3 years wages in Madagascar, on footwear. No matter how pretty.
Ah, Very Prive in 100mm.

Rural and dusty southern Madagascar. 

And a couple more pics from today.

Some monument. I liked the light.

Some newlyweds and the Eiffel tower. 

What a strange world this is. So strange, that it may even be Tuesday.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I must be in... Toliara!

Electricity, toilets, internet, and cow cars full of cow? 

Well, you don't see that everyday. Unless you are in Toliara.

I must be back in Toliara! And wow, is a cold beer ever amazing after three weeks of tea temperature, salty, hollow-tasting pond water. Not to mention the >40°C daily forest temperatures. But I miss the forest and the animals already. Tsimanampetsotsa (the forest where I follow lemurs around) and it's flora and fauna certainly hold a piece of my heart.

The dry forest of Tsimanampetsotsa.

I was so pleased to see many familiar fuzzy faces. Pinkie, 5 Head, Momma, Chubbers, Short tail Bert, Short tail Bert 2 (creative, I know), Snoze, Hoppy, LJ, & the very handsome George Clooney. A few are noticeably absent, but I like to think they just moved to other groups.

I love this pic and think it qualifies as an awkward (lemur) family photo. 

Great to also see The Little Bastards. They are mischievous as ever and will get their own post in time.

Ah, Galidictis. What a little bastard. 

Part of my agenda on this trip was to see if it was possible to collect lemur pee, and it is! So, if my current funding proposals get approved, I will be back for more pee in the near future. How exciting. Right? See for yourself:

Alright, I am off to drink something cold and eat something sweet. More soon...