Blog by MBP simus Monitoring Volunteer, Sierra
Most Fridays go by uneventfully at KAFS. It’s the last day of work so we all happily come home from the field ready to have our bi-weekly showers. Some make plans to go to one of the nearest towns for the weekend to get internet or report. But one Friday things went extremely unexpectedly. It was close to 4:00 in the afternoon and I had tiredly just made it down to the communal eating area to help out with our weekly English class with my research partner, Blake, for any of the guides that wanted to learn. I admittedly did not want to do it that Friday. It had been a long hot week and I was ready for my weekend to begin, but in hindsight I’m happy I did.
I was only about 5 minutes into the lesson when a Malagasy I didn’t recognize walked in. He immediately began speaking rapid Malagash with the guides with only a few of the words catching my ears, one of which was the word “gidro” the word for lemur.
One of the guides then turned to Blake and I and said the man had a baby simus (bamboo lemur) in his bag. This caught our attention. We asked the guide to please retell the story to us. From what we understood, the man had been watching the lemurs eating in a lychee tree near his village. One mother had begun to walk on the ground towards another tree when she dropped her baby. He then picked up the baby and had brought it to us. At that point he pulled a baby simus that could be no older than 2 weeks from his “murse”. I quickly threw on gloves from one of fecal collection bags and gave the terrified little baby a quick look over to see if anything was obviously wrong with it. As I held on to him, he firmly latched on to my hand with an iron grip. Besides his rapidly beating heart and terrified little eyes, the baby looked okay.
At this point my heart was pounding and I’m sure Blake’s was too. What were we going to do with a baby lemur? Luckily, from working in wildlife rehabilitation, I had a fair amount of experience with well-intended people taking babies away from moms that plan on returning. The most important thing in these situations is to get the baby back to where you last saw the mother and quietly wait nearby to see if the mother returns. If the lemurs hadn’t moved off, we would still have a chance of giving the baby back.
We were able to get the name of the village, Ambodibinary. From KAFS it’s about a 20 minute walk. Blake and I didn’t have much time. As fast as we could, we placed the baby in a carrying cage and took off towards the village hoping we could flag one of the MBP vehicles down if we saw one along the way. One of the vehicles did stop for us, and had us in the village sooner than we could have hoped for. I think everyone realized speed was an important factor in this.
When we got there I couldn’t believe it. The group was still there high in the lychee tree right by the road. The only unfortunate factor was so was half the village. You could tell the lemurs were uneasy with being so close to the people, but the people were extremely excited to see the lemurs. I decided there was no time to waste and began to place the baby in a low fork in the tree and hope it would begin to call for mom and stepped back.
The first seconds the baby was completely silent and only stared out bug eyed and confused, but soon (to I think everyone’s relief) he began to cry. After a few calls from baby, mom began to call back. They exchanged calls back and forth and mom came into sight, but she wouldn’t come down. The villagers were too close. We tried to get everyone to back up a little more and watch as quietly as possible, but many of the children were understandably excited. We decided to climb up the tree a little further and place the baby closer to mom and further from the people. As we did it mom came closer. Once we were down from the tree, mom came over. We all held our breath waiting to see what would happen next.
Just as we thought the baby was mounted and things were okay, the baby fell to a lower branch. Some of the kids gasped seeing this and so did some of the parents. I was worried that maybe mom wouldn’t keep him after all. Amazingly, mom went down and re-positioned the baby more firmly on her. That’s when we realized mom was having a difficult time because not only did she have this baby, but she had another! Twins! Prolemur simus rarely have more than one baby at a time so to see one with twins was a pretty surprising sight. Once baby was firmly grasping mom, the three of them bounded up into the tree until mom felt she was safe away from all the people. She then began to intensely, and I think happily, groom her reunited baby.
We left mom with her twins licking away at each other. Blake and I both agreed to walk the 20 minutes back to KAFS to settle our nerves a little. I think we both had a little bit of an adrenaline rush from it all. It’s not every day you get interrupted in English class by someone taking out a critically endangered baby lemur from their man-purse.