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Blog by MBP Volunteer, Annie


Hello from a Varecia volunteer who just spent my first 3 weeks working at Kianjavato!

Some of the time so far has been fast-paced, and at other times the lemurs have been in a relaxed mood, which means we can relax too and simply watch them in their comfortable state.

Along with the amazing Varecia lemurs we follow, we are starting to work with two new species, the red-fronted brown lemur (nick-named “rufis”) and the red-bellied lemur (called “rubris”). These two groups have only recently been collared, and so we are spending some time following them to habituate them to people. Despite the fact that they are insanely cute and agile, they are not quite accustomed to people trailing after them and recording their various movements. My first day following the rubris we ascended up steep slopes to the top of the ridge, where we raced after them for several hours as they unsuccessfully tried to swing their way out of our presence.

While I caught few glimpses of the lemurs themselves leaping, I had plenty of time to reflect on my own adopted locomotion strategy in the undergrowth of a Madagascar rainforest. As I struggled up and down slopes I felt like an inept spider monkey, reaching out with every possibly limb for a purchase on the surrounding plant life. In reality I am probably worse on the ground than even a monkey would be, with my snail shell backpack to carry around and get caught on everything without discrimination.





I have confirmed that all in all, lianas are innocuous and benevolent, providing convenient ropes to hold while climbing or rappelling on slopes. Vines, however, are decidedly malicious and far more ubiquitous. My big feet cannot avoid them, and I can’t do my usual race down hills or risk falling flat forwards from a snaking trip vine. Worse still are the ones with thin spines, which snag and hold you close (a similar vine is called “wait-a-while” in Australia, because it takes so long to disentangle yourself from their barbed edges).

It is crucial, too, to get a good look at the branch/tree trunk/liana you intend to use as your life-support structure as occasionally they are also covered with thick spikes, which aside from being painful tend to cause you to lose your already maladjusted balance in the spiky shock. Even more threatening than the pointed plants are the branches that break quickly and the facsimiles of trunks and lianas that are so old they literally implode when you touch them, crumbling to dust as you scramble to find a new grip-tree before collapsing up or downslope.

When no tree trunk, vine, or rock is conveniently available, then the shrubbery will do. It is impressive how resilient and firm even the limb of an understory plant can be. Equally durable, though once again malignant, are the thin, tiny vines that appear constantly out of nowhere, ready to entangle your boots, arms, legs, backpack, and on one unfortunate occasion, bootlaces (I was on a steep slope and in a precarious position which I had to hold desperately as I extricated myself from the itinerant vine)!

But despite the difficulties as I adapt to my new monkey mode of transportation, it is very exciting to be working with a new species that has not been studied before at Kianjavato. I hope to get many more opportunities to observe these lemurs in action, even though at times I would prefer them to rest like the Varecia and give my monkey limbs a break!

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