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By Liz – a 2011-12 MBP Varecia monitoring team volunteer


I just completed nine months of volunteer work on the Varecia project and I really like to make lists, so here is a list of what I like about KAFS (in alphabetical order):


Aye-aye!  Just a couple of weeks after arriving in Madagascar, the dart team captured the second aye-aye in the area. I was really hoping I would get to see an aye-aye in the wild, but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to examine one up close and observe all of its crazy unique adaptations. I hope they find more!


Babies!  The Varecia at our two study sites (Sangasanga and Vatovavy) hadn’t reproduced in two years. But my super awesome teammate Ryan and I became very hopeful when we observed some of the individuals copulating in July. Three months later, seven out of eight of our female follow animals gave birth to thirteen babies. And after five months, twelve of these lemurs have survived. Varecia are my favorite lemurs.


Community!  One of the best things about the location of KAFS is its close proximity to the road and several villages. I liked living at KAFS more than at previous field stations I had worked at because there were more opportunities to hang out with the locals and to become immersed in the culture, whether it by shopping at the local market, attending a soccer game, or partaking in holiday festivities.


Dawn and dusk!  The hilly landscape surrounding KAFS makes for great sunrises and sunsets. Seeing the sun rise over Vatovavy each morning made rolling out of bed at 5:30 much easier.


Envelopes!  There’s a post office in Kianjavato that only takes about eighteen days to send a letter to the U.S. from … I think that’s worthy information to include in this blog post.


Friends!  I think I like everyone I’ve met in Madagascar. KAFS is a nice blend of people with representatives from Kianjavato, graduate students from elsewhere in Madagascar, and volunteers from around the world. It’s really interesting to meet so many different people and to learn about everyone’s cultures.


Guides!  Ryan and I were guided through the forests by four amazing local guides. We worked with Marolahy and Edgar at Vatovavy and Cressant and Dakely at Sangasanga.  Their contribution to the project is immeasurable as they work incredibly hard with all smiles and no complaints. Completing our work would be impossible without them. Getting to know these four guys over the past nine months is truly one of the highlights of my Mada experience.


Hiking!  Being from northwest Ohio, I’ve never lived anywhere that wasn’t completely flat. It was nice working in a forest that climbs about 400 meters from top to bottom and being able to see how the forest changes with elevation. It was also cool that my job was somewhat physically demanding as I didn’t feel the need to go running in my spare time.


I can’t think of anything for “I.”


Jackson!  There is a really cool guy named Jackson who works in the KAFS nursery, but everyone just calls him Daka.


KAFS!  These were probably some of the happiest months of my life. Even though I’ve never been away for so long, I never felt homesick and enjoyed both the work in the forest and life at camp. I think the design of KAFS makes living there a lot easier because there are places like the kitchen where you can just sit and socialize, but also places like our personal tent sites where we can go chill out alone.


Lychees!  Never had I ever heard of a “lychee” prior to arriving in Madagascar, now they rank among my top favorite foods (# 7).


Mongooses!  I once saw a mongoose at Sangasanga. I thought it was a squirrel.


Night sky!  The starry night in Kianjavato is so vibrant and magnificent that it makes me really wish I knew more about astronomy. Unfortunately the presence of mosquitoes kept me from star gazing too long.


Outdoors!  I like that we all live in tents and that the kitchen is outside because why spend any time indoors when the climate is so nice?


Planting trees!  One of my biggest regrets about this experience is that I didn’t plant enough trees. I really admire the reforestation project and realize its importance after witnessing so much slash-and-burn, especially after discovering it right in the middle of my second favorite Varecia’s home range (Blue at Vatovavy). It felt really good to team up with everyone, set a tree planting goal and achieve it.


Quack!  There is a really funny duck that walks around the KAFS driveway and waddles through the puddles.


Rice!  Rice is my sixth favorite food (preceded by: 1. nectarines, 2. blueberries, 3. ice cream, 4. hummus, 5. peanut butter) so I was very happy to discover that on most days it is served for every meal. It may sound boring, but it’s not because you never know if it will be white rice or red rice and on bean nights whether it will be served with white, red, or garbanzo beans.


Sandramy!  My favorite tree in the whole wide world is Sandramy. It was fruiting a lot around August and on some days our lemurs would sit in a single tree for hours gorging on its goodness.


Team work!  I really liked Team Varecia. I miss them.


Uroplatus!  While I used to be freaked out by these guys and was bewildered by Ryan’s odd fascination with them, I now admit that they are pretty cool. Ryan and I didn’t see any until October but after that I saw a least ten. I even saw four in four days once. One was missing its tail.


Vatovavy!  This is my favorite place that I’ve been to in Madagascar because it is beautiful, pristine primary forest that lacks annoying undergrowth, making chasing after lemurs an enjoyable adventure. Although some parts can be quite steep, the gigantic trees, colorful insects, and small waterfalls make hiking to the top a somewhat whimsical experience.


Weather!  I don’t miss snow – I think that the weather in Kianjavato is almost perfect. Most days are well balanced between warm/hot days and crisp, cool nights. February is cyclone season and can be both thrilling and terrifying.


X-cellent!  My life at KAFS was excellent, I want to stay and live in the forest forever.


Y-mar!  Y-mar is my second favorite Malagasy musical artist (I like Lous’fa best but Y-mar has more songs that I like.)  I once saw the girl from my favorite Y-mar music video walking around in Tana. Needless to say, I flipped out.


Zzz … sleeping?  One of my favorite Sunday activities was snoozing on the floor of my tent site, preparing for the exciting and adventurous week ahead.


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