Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bed time for cave lemurs

Ring-tailed rock climbers. 
One of the groups of ring-tailed lemurs that I study at Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, Madagascar, sleeps in a series of small caves. Although the group returns to the very same caves every day, the whole ordeal takes a lot of political prowess, a decent grip, and about 40 minutes. This is because some spots in the cave are preferred (I don't know why), and higher ranked animals get first pick of everything from food and water to grooming rights and sleeping space. But that doesn't mean that lower ranked animals don't get ideas about those extra cozy spots where all the cool kids hang out.

Here's a little clip of females getting grumpy at each other over access to a water hole. They are of about the same rank, but still get irritated.

High ranked females get first choice and go into the caves one after the other without much problem. Mid-and low-ranked females follow but have to balance a) getting into the cave quickly and claiming a decent spot with b) getting chased/bitten or otherwise told off and ending up in a crappy cave. High- and mid-ranked males face the same dilemmas, but have to defer to all females before getting a spot. The super loser low-ranked males can forget about getting into a cave. They sleep all alone in sad little trees and probably get eaten by fossa without anyone noticing. Poor things. Babies/juveniles are cut a little slack and tend to sleep near or with their moms.

There is a little biting at the beginning of this clip, but mostly they all follow the cue and enter unscathed.

And last, for this video clip, keep your eye on the lemur in the middle who is negotiating getting into the cave while hanging on and still looking cool. Its probably not even funny, but totally cracks me up.

Oh how I miss my little rock climbing lemurs...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Check out LJ. He's pretty great. Or at least he used to be.

One of the joys of studying the same wild animals repeatedly is that you get to know individuals and can follow their life events. "LJ" is one of my favorite ring-tailed lemurs from Tsimanampetsotsa and he has undergone some dramatic changes over the last few years. So, why don't I tell you about him? 

Here's LJ. All young and cute.

First, he's got a weird looking cap (the grey part of fur on his forehead) that reminds me of pulled back drapes.

LJ and his curtain cap.
This is in the wet season, when he was fat. 

But, I'd be lying if I told you that this was how I distinguish him from the other 10-15 males in his group. Because its not. "LJ" stands for 'Long John'. And that is what LJ has. A long john. Not so classy, I know, but seriously, I could point out LJ from halfway across the forest. With one eye. 

I know that you are curious.
Look, even the creepy lemur in the background is looking at LJ's lj. 

LJ used to be high ranking (for a male) and was quite popular with the ladies. But he also used to have a symmetrical face and an entire tail. 

LJ, pondering the meaning of the universe. Or something. 

But some where along the way LJ lost his hot-shot status, and maybe scrapped it out with other males one too many times. Now, he is the lowest ranked boy, has a totally jacked up grill, one ear that is barely hanging on, and is missing half his tail. I don't have a clue what happened to his face, but suspect that he had a dental abscess, lost a tooth or two, and now his canines are drifting in different directions. Which makes one canine look ridiculously big and the other one all but disappear. And he only has half of his tail. Lord only knows what happened there. 

LJ's huge tooth!

LJ. Big tooth vs. little tooth. 

You can see a little more of that huge tooth here:

And that's LJ. In all his glory. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Meet Munchkin. Behold the Munchkin wave.

Ring-tailed lemurs use behavioral mechanisms to regulate their body temperatures. When its really hot in the afternoon, they hang out in the shade, hug onto cool rocks, and sometimes lick their hands. When its cold at night they huddle together in balls, and in the morning they warm up by "sunning". When sunning, they sit upright, stretch out, and get as much warmth as possible on their bellies, and arms and legs.

Lemur sunning. Its pretty great.

"Munchkin" is an eight month old ring-tailed lemur from one of the groups I study at Tsimanampetsotsa. Munchkin's sunning tactics totally crack me up, as he always seems to have his left hand sticking way out. I've dubbed his sunning style the 'Munchkin wave'. Check it out.

Holotype. The Munchkin wave. 
Paratype. The Munchkin wave. 

Thinking about the Munchkin wave.

Just a quick Munchkin wave before taking off.
Falling asleep Munchkin wave. 

A rare double-handed Munchkin wave. 

And finally, an E.T. style Munchkin wave. 
You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Madagascar = 0, Marni = 1.

Madagascar barely tried to kill me. Like almost not at all. And really, I have nothing but good things to report. Imagine that. Two minor but notable incidences include my 1) nearly getting gored by a herd of rogue forest zebu (we, the zebu and I, had a misunderstanding as to my intentions and they decided to take a preemptive strike), and then my 2) getting a burning, blistering mystery insect bite that nearly drove me to chew off my own arm (and a good chunk of my torso). I tried everything short of human breast milk (a common cure for maladies around these parts, but unfortunately I didn’t have access to a lactating woman) to ease the excruciating itch and blazing hot burn, but 48 hours was all the metaphorical doctor ordered. Otherwise, all is/was good.

I am thrilled to report that the illegal human activities which were taking place within Tsimanampetsotsa National Park have dramatically decreased (see Conservation Sucks). Imagine that! I did collect quite a few “death balls” (horrible endemic fruits used to snare animals), but thankfully, no animals had been caught. And, get this, I saw 11 tortoises!! Previously, I stated that the critically endangered radiated and spider tortoises were likely locally extinct, but gosh darn it, I was wrong. Yet another pleasant surprise. There is still much work to be done in reforestation and forest protection; however some admirable strides have been made and my faith in humanity is moderately restored. Today.  

Destroying death balls. And looking odd.
OMG. Radiated tortoise on its tip-toes. 

I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped (but really, do we ever?) for a variety of reasons such as not having a car, not having any student assistants, and the fact that elementary school is out of session, but I got in lots of good quality lemur time and collected a remarkable number of lemur urine samples (36, FYI). I love these animals so very much and seeing how their lives change (or don’t) year after year is wonderful. Especially when neither of you are actively dying. 

The gang. 

Lemur fingers. Because I love them almost as much as lemur toes. 
More to come. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reniala lemur rescue center

I've just gotten back from the Reniala lemur rescue center, the first and only rescue center for ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar, and am so happy to report that they (the forest association, and NGO staff and volunteers) are doing an amazing job caring for the 25 captive lemurs. Its wonderful to find kindred spirits who genuinely care about nature and are willing to stick their necks out for animals.

A very nice spiny forest, with a handsome path to boot.

Lemur housing at Reniala
Reniala reception area with one of the local guides
(who's name I didn't catch!) and Lea Giraud. 

Plus, Reniala is very cushy. I stayed in a house with a bed and a TOILET. I had excellent coffee and crepes for breakfast, with honey (that is made onsite), and fresh fruits and veggies at lunch and dinner. The purpose of my trip, of course, was not to be comfortable, but I certainly don't mind a little comfort when it comes my way!

Mmm. Food that doesn't suck. 

Um, is that a bungalow? Why yes. Yes it is. 

And on to the lemurs. These poor things have not had it easy. Most were wild caught as babies and sold to tourists or Malagasy hotels looking increase tourism. Some were owned by single individuals. A few were born at the center. Some were kept in bad conditions, as you can imagine. And they have the physical and emotional scares to prove it- details to follow, once I can upload video.

Samy, the RTL. He lost a finger and fractured his
radius and ulna somewhere along the way.

But, now these lemurs have each other! And many people looking out for their best interests.

Maki besties.

In fact, we hope that these lemurs can be released someday, but this next step is very complicated. Its not entirely clear if these captive raised lemurs could sufficiently provide for themselves, as they may not know what natural foods are edible. Its also not clear if they recognize natural predators- look, they sleep on the ground at night! That would get you gobbled up in a hurry at Tsimanampetsotsa.

Ground sleeping?!

It is also tricky to find remaining suitable, lemur-safe, well protected forest. And there is a potential for disease introduction between captive and wild lemurs. See, its complicated. But that is the goal.

And just for fun, here is a pic of a Madagascar big-headed gecko (Paroedura pictus), because I was so excited to see it!

Just your average rare, endemic, big-headed gecko. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Skip a latte, save a lemur!

You guys are great. In the last five days I've collected nearly $1500 (for the Reniala lemur center and to pay the school fees of some deserving kids, as requested) and more veterinary supplies than I can feasibly transport. But, the lemurs need more. And here is my pitch de jour: skip a latte, save a lemur!

I'm going to entice you with some of the Reniala lemur's individual details (thanks to Bastien Rolland and Lea Giraud for posting these). So, read on. And then, how about skipping your literal or figurative latte today, and sending the difference to a lemur? Fabulous idea, right?!

Here are some interesting deets about a few of  Reniala gang.

"Almandine, the daredevil". Poor little Almandine broke her leg a few weeks ago and had to be rushed to the city for x-rays and to get a wee cast.

"Bertrand, the rascal". Bert was born at the center and is very adventurous.

"Chouchou, the nervous". Awe. Chouchou was seize by police and ranks dead last in the group heirarchy. He's nervous and would definitely be the one loser male that had his tail frozen off. He was kept as a pet and doesn't know how to eat natural foods.

"Erwan, the reject" (OMG!). Poor Erwan, who is Almandine's dad, was rejected by the main group and lives with LouLou. Despite his reject status, Erwan is calm.

"Fripo" used to belong to a priest and was aggressive when he arrived.

"Laurence, the matriarch". Laurence is the dominant female and apparently has something 'atypical' with her jaw. She came from Ankenta.

"Lemar". Awe, breaks my heart. Lemar was only just brought in from Ifaty, by someone from the Reef Doctor. She has to be housed alone and exhibits stereotypical captive behaviors, which aren't good.

"Loulou" lives with Erwan (the reject) and has HUGE canines.

"Manou" was brought in as a baby and is very active!

"Mini" is the tiniest adult male, at 1.7 kg. He was brought in from Ankifaly and also exhibits stereotypical behaviors.

"Morine" is second in charge, despite having 1/2 a tail. She lived at a hotel before coming to Reniala.

"Simon" came from Toliara and was very fearful when he arrived at Reniala. He has abnormal gait and his tail is bent in half. You know there is a not so pleasant story there...

"Twenty" lives with Chouchou and is nervous and aggressive. He doesn't know how to eat lemur foods and thus was captured as a baby.

And there are many more. Can you imagine? You can find all their details (in French) on Reniala's webpage.

So, do me and lemurs a solid. Skip your latte and send us a few bucks. Either directly to Reniala (paypal ID NGOs Reniala) or through me (paypal to Many, many thank yous.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sponsor a lemur, kid, or wildcard. And you don't even have to get a cestode.

Madagascar is hurty for me. It tries to kill me (ironically, see Survival for examples), like a lot (also see any of the Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick posts), and breaks my heart (missing Kitty LaFleur, the incomprehensible cruelty of a world where people suffer for no good reason, and say like, dead lemurs, just for extra depressive points). Every time. Sniff. And yet, I go back. And am going back in a week. Because Madagascar is beautiful, and unique, and deserving. And now that I have all this experience and knowledge about the plants, animals and people of Madagascar, I have the ability to do some good. And thus, I must. Oh, and I have a soft spot for lemurs.

Just wander around the forest blubbering like an idiot. 

Mystery mean leg blisters. The green was my sharpie marker. FYI

Enjoying a little Dengue Fever. In 120 degree heat.
And more bugs than I care to remember. 

And lucky YOU! You can help from the comfort of your living room, just by sending me a few bucks. Like the price of a latte. And then you can feel totally smug because of your sacrifice and humanitarianism. And your lack of tropical parasites. Or cestodes in general. 

Here are my pitches:

1.      Sponsor a lemur
This one is easy. My first stop in Madagascar is the Association Reniala, a rescue center which is taking in ring-tailed lemurs that were confiscated by police as part of the illegal pet or bushmeat trades. You can read more about Reniala and the plight of the ring-tailed lemur here, but this is the first and only place in Madagascar for ring-tailed lemurs and they are doing a bang up job. The efforts of Reniala are near and dear to me, because, of course I love ring-tailed lemurs, but also because in 2011 I was bestowed with a pet lemur (named Sid, pronounced “Seed”) whom I failed gravely. Poor Sid paid, and I owe him this. Sniff. You can read about him in Sid, the sweet lemur and Sid, the sweet lemur part 2

It takes $5 per day (or $150 per month) for Reniala to feed 25 lemurs. Of course they have many other expenses, but food is the most immediate. OMG and look, sometimes these poor bastards have accidents and need emergency transportation and wee little casts

Photo Association Reniala.

So, send $5 or $150 or $10000. Your call J

In return, I will report updates from Reniala, including many fun videos/photos from my stay.

2.      Sponsor a kid
Alright, don’t love lemurs? Well, you’re a sucker, but I (sort of) get it. Some people love kids, and even I have a soft spot now and then. Especially for kids that want an education, but do not have the opportunity to get one.

So, I’d like to sponsor 10 kids for a year, by paying their school fees (~$50 all in) and then tossing in the graduation bonus of a goat (~$50, depending on size). For reals.

Baby goat or "ossa" in Efotse.

Southern Madagascar is extremely poor. Like people starve. And there are literal plagues of locusts. And you get Dengue Fever on the weekends. For kicks. So kids don’t always get to go to school. Other than the starving, locusts, and deadly tropical disease, why aren't these kids getting a decent education? The major obstacles are a) school fees, and b) opportunity cost, meaning they need to work to help their families survive.

Efotse. The village I am working in. Its next to the
Tsimanampetsotsa National Park.

But, like everywhere else, people with educations and skills (like literacy) make more money and have better prospects when compared to those who don’t. Paying the fees will enable kids who simply can’t afford it to go to school to do so. And the prospect of a goat (a form of currency in these parts) will at least negate some of the lost working time to their families. FYI there aren’t banks here. Livestock are the main currency.  Also for comparative purposes, if a child were to care for a gaggle of someone else’s goats for 2 years, they would get one goat to keep for themselves.

I promise I am not pro-child labor. But these hard working kids
were transporting supplies for me after I was stuck in a cyclone
for 5 days. I'd rather they were in school!

And lucky you, because this is JUST like one of those ‘80s adds where you get to know your very own sponsoree (I think I made that word up) kid. Sponsor a kid and I will tell you all about them and then get them to document highlights of their school year, which I will then pass on to you. And then next year, graduation pending, I will buy them their well-earned bovid. Cool, right?

Ah, look. Don't you want to help a little ragg-a-muffin?

3.      Sponsor a wild card
Ok, this sounds a bit sketchy, but here is what I want to do: loan 10 people $100 bucks each for a year, with the instructions of a) bettering their lives, b) bettering their environment, and c) paying it forward.   

Did I mention that Madagascar (especially southern) is really poor? Well, it is. And there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for innovation or furthering your family’s lot in life when you are working non-stop and actively dying of a communicable disease, as many are. And since there are no banks, there are very few loans. People often try to build up small stockpiles of commodities such as oil, sugar or coffee, so that if their crops/food supplies fail they can sell these to buy other foods. But many can’t even attain these levels of food security.

Tana, the capital city of Madagascar.
A rural charcoal producing town in southern Madagascar.

So, I would like to ask people in Efotse to propose how they would use and repay this $100 windfall and then fund the best 10 ideas. I will help, to the best of my ability, get their entrepreneurial projects rolling and set up plans for success.

And once again, lucky you will get to hear all about it. Who knows, this could be amazing?!

Alright, that’s my plea. Sponsor a lemur. Sponsor a kid. Sponsor a wildcard. And look forward to hearing all about it.

Please send ANY amount, through PayPal to my email address ( All donations are going to Lemur Love, Inc. and US registered 501(c). If you are in the US, I can issue you a tax deductible receipt.

Do it. RIGHT NOW. 

Many thanks! Misotra besika! Danke! Merci beaucoup! Gracius!