Saturday, April 16, 2011

Leaping Lemurs

Hasina didn't show up until after 4:30. Then within two blocks his car stalled. Some locals standing by push started him. Not an auspicious start. It was a three and a half hour drive the mountain, most of it in the pitch dark. Road surface was decent, traffic not too scary for the fourth world. We pulled into the best non-luxury hotel by the national park. Once again, the LP had raved about it, but in reality it was a large bunch of crappy bungalows, way overpriced at $27. No competition. After eating that night and the next morning, Hasina drove us over to the park entrance. In the sort of early morning daylight, now that the mist had lifted, we were surrounded by a dense, but hardly threatening, forest. Humid, but not really hot and sweaty. Everyone had to purchase a guide, and shortly Abraham was leading us along the 3 hour trail. Flat, then up a smallish hill. Then Abraham told us to wait while he searched for lemurs. Soon we were stumbling through a patch of forest and there, hanging from a tree about ten feet up, were two orange/yellow sifakas. Besides saying that they were brightly colored and unbelievably cute, you'll have to look up lemur pictures to see what it is we were seeing. Worth the price of admission right there. Then Abraham went and away and soon led us through denser forest to where we saw our first indri. Although Madagascar has 47 species of lemur up and down its length, this was the only place were the indri, the largest lemurs, live. They're about three feet long, except when they're stretched out, when they're at least twice that. They're also brilliantly white and black, and they make weird hooting noises. It's hard to take pictures of them, though, since they're almost always hunched up holding on to a tree about 20 feet up. Except when they jump from tree to tree. All lemurs seem to freeze in mid air and levitate from tree to tree, never reaching out to grab anything, but just jumping the exact amount of distance to get there. The indri can go about 30 feet between jumps, and all of them can complete 5 jumps in around 3 seconds. After we were amazed seeing 3 indri about 30 feet up, a few minutes later we came upon a larger group of them in various adjacent trees less than 10 feet above us. Apparently we were very fortunate to see so many so close up. Sometimes they hold on to each other; sometimes they hop off to hold on to a tree by themselves. We saw a few of the common brown lemurs, and a nocturnal woolly lemur, who was sleeping about 30 feet up and was totally indistinguishable. Then we finished our hike and were driven back to our bungalow. For the afternoon we were taken to the grounds of the luxury hotel, which didn't strike me as all that luxurious. They had a little zoo area with a crocodile farm and a few foussa, who are smallish elongated cats and Madagascar's largest carnivores. But the main draw was lemur island, a fifteen foot canoe ride from the 'mainland'. When we walked into the forest 100 yards from the landing, hanging on to a tree almost at eye level, calmly gazing at us, was one of those adorable yellow/orange and white sifakas. Pretty damn cute. But less than a minute later, knowing that humans meant bananas, a troop of at least ten brown lemurs came hopping and bounding through the trees and forest floor at us. Maureen almost freaked as they immediately jumped on our shoulders and sat on our heads. Their paws were clawless and their attitude was really gentle. Each of them was happy with just the smallest bite of banana. They were also content to sit on your shoulders for minutes at a time, although they might just as soon bound off to a branch 10 feet away. They were about the size of a large squirrel, although of course they are primates (and precursors to monkeys). Besides the orange sifakas, there were some black and white ones (which were not indri, since indri can not be kept in captivity.) Both were about midsize between the brown ones and the indri. Each species has its own personality. The brown ringtails will jump all over you, but don't like to be touched. You can actually pet the orange ones. All of them will eat out of your hands. Then there was a fourth species, the bamboo lemurs. These were small and brown, and way more appealing than koalas. Gentle eyes and a gentle round nose, they were timid and humble. Like the others, though (and like the rest of us primates), they really liked those bananas. One of my best animal experiences ever. Not quite up there with the gorillas in the mist, but getting close. Even Maureen was glad that she hadn't followed her first instincts and run screaming back to the canoe when first 'attached' by the bounding ringtail extroverts.


Post a Comment

<< Home