Photo of Ruffiface courtesy of Dr. Louis
Blog by MBP Volunteer, Thomas
My first week of following lemurs has been a wonderful and enlightening period. I began by briefly meeting the five guides who work on Prolemur simus, and going out to follow the “West 1” group with the experienced guide Hery, and a student from Tulsa in a study abroad program named Kate. She is here for a few weeks doing a project on the behavior of the lemurs and parasites that might affect vision. Hery is a real character who loves to observe Greater Bamboo Lemurs, often giggling at individuals who play or do something funny.
We met up with Hery after meeting some important individuals in Kianjavato, such as the school director, mayor, and secretary of FOFIFA, the company with coffee plantations in whose forest we do much of our work. By the time we caught up with Hery he had found the lemurs and was already conducting a “follow”. This involves keeping track of one specific individual in the group for 2 hours, writing down their behaviour every five minutes and taking a GPS point of their location every half hour. Some behaviors, such as mutual grooming and aggression, are recorded whenever they come up.
Over that day and the rest of my first week I went out and followed the West 1 group every day, trying to familiarize myself with the lemurs in that group. Someone working on the project previously named the lemurs of the group after Harry Potter characters, which makes it easier to remember names. There are two mothers with small babies (as yet unnamed) born this year, their names being Luna and Fleur. Luna has a green tag on her collar while Fleur has a pink one, making it easy to identify them.
There are two immature males, Dobby and Lupin. Dobby is the smallest of the group and has only one eye, but this does not stop him from play-fighting with any and all takers and traversing the canopy with the best of them. He is very skilled in getting behind his opponents and grabbing them in a bear hug, often climbing branches upside down if necessary to do so.
Gryff is the apparent “alpha” of the group, at times bossing the others around and acting as the group’s protector. At the end of the first week a large bird, possibly a raptor, soared overhead and he jumped into action with warning grunts and frantic tail-wagging – signals to the others that a predator was about. I have read that Greater Bamboo Lemur is the only species of lemur without a matriarchal hierarchy, but there is a graduate student who will be looking into this topic much more closely for her
dissertation. I may meet her next year.
I will conclude with the sad tale of Rufiface, a lemur grouped in with West 1 simply (from my impression) for his repeated attempts to join them. His name came about due to distinctive white eyebrow markings, which make him somewhat resemble another species of lemur, Eulemur rufifrons. He was born in the Eastern Groups, but struck out on his own when he came of age due to the large number of males in those groups. Now he is found in the West, wandering between the territories of West 1, 2, and the Northwest groups in a search for acceptance into one of them. He spends a lot of time alone, and Gryff in particular has several times chased him off when he comes within the vicinity of the group. I cannot help but think I see a bit of innocent sadness in Rufi’s eyes, an anthropomorphism I should probably try and avoid. Regardless, I hope all ends well for the wandering lemur of the West.