15 February 2012

Lemurs in the treetops

Rob has held a dream in his heart for 40 years - to see the lemurs and other rare animals of Madagascar.  When we reached the rainforest of Ranomafana, we hoped to fulfill that dream and the central objective of this journey.  Located in the south-central region, Ranomafana National Park was established in 1991 to protect the golden bamboo lemur, a species that was not known until 1985. The 41,000-hectare park has become one of the most important wildlife sites in Madagascar because of its diversity of species.  

The terrain of the park is dominated by the gorge of the Namorona River with forested hills reaching 600 to 1400 metres.  Our six-hour hike involved lots of climbing and steep descents through the thick montane forest.  The paths were good though, so that we could get within viewing distance of the animals.  We were very fortunate; we saw lemurs, lots of lemurs.

Our talented local guide, Elyse (put and accent on the final e in his name), led us in close to watch four different species of lemurs. It was incredible. For the details in this post I'll rely on the guidebook Elyse loaned me - Madagascar Wildlife, 2008, by Garbutt, Bradt, and Schuurman.

The golden bamboo lemur prefer the young leaves and new shoots of giant bamboo. The tree is rich in protein, but also contains high level of cyanide that would be lethal to other animals. These lemurs are generally seen in family groups of two to six, but three or four is normal.

We also saw the eastern grey lemur, but I was not able to learn much about them.  Something to research further when we get home. 

The Milne-Edwards' sifaka fulfilled my dreams for siting lemurs.  Their beautiful black and white fur made me think of panda.  This species has been studied quite extensively in Ranomafana and some of the animals we saw had radio collars.  Its known that this sifaka has a range of up to 55 hectares and will travel about a km per day feeding and resting. They live up to 30 years. Dorique took several wonderful photos of these lovely creatures for us.

The red-fronted brown lemur were exciting to see.  The males have a grayish coat with a rusty crown while females are pale chestnut brown with a grey crown.  The species is distributed between eastern and western forests of Madagascar, but the animals in Ranomafana tend to have a darker body color.  These lemurs make fruit the mainstay of their diet.

Much later, as it was growing dark, we took flashlights and went for a hike on the roadside near the park.  Elyse rubbed banana on several trees as a way of enticing the nocturnal mouse lemur to come out.  This shy little lemur feeds only on fruits.  

We waited and waited some more.  We whispered about the importance of patience when hoping to see special animals.  And at last the mouse lemur did appear to lick at the banana we'd offered. We had only a moment to view it in the light of a flashlight before it scurried back into the rainforest. It was worth the wait.

Here we are with Elyse during our lunch break in the park.  My attractive outfit (socks over pants and canvas hat) is not protection against biting flies like at home; instead, it's protection against leeches!

And here we are celebrating a wonderful day in the company of lemurs.


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