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Peter's Blog - 16th Jan. 2023 to 31st Jan. 2023

After months of planning, preparation and anticipation, it is very exciting to have arrived in Madagascar. As you can imagine it is a long journey from Derry in the northwest of Ireland to Kianjavato Ahmanson Field Station, both in terms of distance and seasons. I have traveled about 10,000km and from winter to summer. It was snowing gently when I locked my front door to begin the journey. My flight arrived almost an hour late into Antananarivo as it had to be de-iced before take-off in a subzero Paris.

Since I arrived, everyone I have met at MBP has been welcoming, friendly and helpful. In Antananarivo I was met at the airport by Rico who drove me to my hotel in the wee small hours of the morning. Next day Rico drove as Hoby helped me to sort out a SIM card for the Malagasy phone network. He also drove me to KAFS, a twelve hour trip from the capital.

I think it is very fitting that upon arrival volunteers are invited to plant a tree at KAFS. I was lucky enough to get planting two trees. Someone suggested they should be called Peter and Petera. Earlier the same day I went with Fredo to meet the Mayor in Kianjavato. Whilst we waited for his Deputy to arrive, myself and Fredo went a short walk along the river to a patch of giant bamboo. Fredo pointed towards movement among the leaves high up in the bamboo. Gradually I was able to discern the leaves from the bamboo canes, then the leaves from the lemur, and then I saw it. My first lemur, a giant bamboo lemur. In all there were four or five individuals in the group including a mother with a young one on its back. I was in awe as we watched them move through the bamboo.

Here at KAFS I have been placed in a seed collection team. I enjoy the daily commute to a local forest to collect whatever seed is in season. So far I have helped collect Bonary mena, Mahanoro and Sandramy seeds. On my second day in the forest near Kianjavato we were working near a radio tracking team. They called us further on up the slopes and allowed me to follow them until we caught sight of the Southern Black and White Ruffed Lemurs in a tree just ahead of us

That was another great moment for me. To see the iconic Varecia in their natural habitat. Three or four individuals, who must have known we were there, seemed happy to explore the trees with us watching. I thought it was comical to watch one back slowly down a tree trunk before skillfully turning around and continuing its descent to a branch. Watching the Varecia really brought home to me the importance of protecting and enhancing habitat for the lemurs.

When I went back to searching among the leaf litter for Mahanoro seeds it occurred to me that it is a lot easier to destroy forests than recreate them. The fantastic and hard work being carried out by MBP staff to collect seed, grow, plant and nurture trees is in order to improve a situation we created.

In Ireland there are similar efforts to increase forest cover. We are, I think, the least forested country in Europe and many of the existing forests are vast areas of commercial plantations of conifers which have little wildlife value. Hopefully that will change.

Of course better habitat does not just benefit lemurs, It benefits people and a host of other wildlife too, in particular my favourite, the birds. Almost every species I see here is new to me, house sparrows aside, and given that many species are endemic, I will not see them anywhere else. 

My growing list includes; Madagascar Wagtail, Red Fody, Common Myna, Madagascar Bulbul, Pied Crow, Souimanga Sunbird, Madagascar White-eye, Olive Bee-eater, Madagascar Coucal, Blue Coua, Madagascar Manikin, Crested Drongo, and the list is growing.

I am fascinated by the butterflies too, but I’ll save that for another time.

Needless to say I am looking forward to the next ten weeks here. I am slowly getting acclimatized to the sudden transition from winter to summer and learning the names of the trees. I am delighted to provide opportunities for staff to improve their English ( I think I can detect a slight Irish accent in some of them already!). In my time here I hope that I can make some minute contribution to the success of MBP.