Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mouse lemur in action!

We assess the health of lemurs exposed to human disturbance in protected areas throughout Madagascar. After conducting our health evaluation, we release the lemurs--unharmed--back into their natural habitat. Check out one of our mouse lemur visitors getting back into the swing of things.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back to the grindstone....

Prepared October 13, 2008

Well, I made it back to the United States with all of my samples in tow. All the permits came through, my luggage made it, and I’m in one piece. I’d say it was a success! As always, field work has its ups and downs, frustrations and successes. But I’m coming home with good data and lots of memories. Now comes the other side of the research coin—taking all of this information that I collected and making sense of it. I’ll be working on data analysis and writing for the next year or two. I’ll be sure to post some updates as I get a clearer picture about lemur health in Madagascar.

Thanks to anyone who kept up with my activities this summer—I really appreciate your interest! I’ll be heading back to Madagascar in April to do more capture, this time focusing on the larger lemurs.
That means Indri, so if you’re interested in their teddy-bear looks and unique, erie song, be sure to tune back in.



A little time for exploring…..

Prepared September 17, 2008

After a long hard stint in the field, all I want to do is......sit in a 4x4 for 10 hours on a bumpy road. I know, sounds crazy. But this is actually a little vacation for me now. I just finished my field work for the summer and I’m going to take a little tourist excursion to the Grand Tsingy, a beautiful and unique limestone outcropping north of Morondova about 10 hours. Sharp limestone pinnacles as far as the eye can see, labyrinths and caverns to explore—it’s a beautiful spot.

Secret of our success

Prepared September 7, 2008

Nothing scientific about this folks—mouse lemurs love bananas. Crave bananas. Will even follow the scent of bananas into a strange metallic box, spend the night, live amongst large primates for 12 hours (i.e. us) and then come back for more the next day. Here’s a glimpse into the love of Microcebus for their fragrant fruit. I appreciate the fruit as well, because it made all of our captures possible.

Taste the rainbow....a food montage

Prepared September 8, 2008

As food structures the day around here, I thought I would share with you what a typical day in the life of food at Kirindy Mitea is like.

Breakfast, 6:30 am, Varysosoa, (soupy rice) with roasted peanuts

Lunch, 12 pm, Vary (rice) with loaka (anything that goes with rice…usually beans around here)

Dinner, 6:30 pm, you guessed it—leftovers of what we had for lunch!

It’s hard to forget. I’ve found that with ample amounts of garlic powder, parmesan cheese and Dijon mustard, anything tastes good!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Microcebus Super-Sleuths

Prepared September 5, 2008

It seems as though there are new Microcebus species popping up every week….what once had been defined as an eastern and a western species now has been amended to include several species. This has caused some ongoing controversy as scientists debate which species should be considered separate and which should not. But the DNA will tell the tale—that’s why we’re sure to collect small samples of skin to use for genetic analyses. In addition to this data, we’re also noting all the variations in color and size that we see in the mouse lemurs. Armed with this combination of information, we hope to figure out the complex mystery that is mouse lemur speciation in Madagascar.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Boom & Bust

Prepared September 1, 2008

I don’t know if field work attracts gambling personalities, but it sure seems like that would be helpful to deal with the constant unknown of capture—so much is out of your control. It’s like I buy a Keno ticket every night when we put out our traps, and sometimes our numbers come up. That’s just one of things that keeps life interesting around here. If only I could make money doing this! Just to give you an example of how unpredictable capture can be—in one week we had a few days in a row of no mouse lemurs captured—0 (see my disappointment in the photo to the right). Then the next day we were overrun with mouse lemurs, capturing 10 in one of the grids (see jubilation below). I think they just like to keep us guessing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kirindy Mitea turns 10 and has a growth spurt

Prepared August 30, 2008

To counteract the gloomy message of the last entry, I’m going to share with you some great news. Within the last year, the Malagasy government and its park management agency, Association Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées (ANGAP), decided to expand the size of Kirindy Mitea National Park. Originally formed in 1997 with approximately 70,000 hectares, the park now encompasses almost 140,000 hectares, including a unique marine reserve just off the coast. This expansion successfully protected the largest continuous patch of dry forest remaining in the West, as well as made Kirindy Mitea one of the biggest preserves in Madagascar. Seeing as how the dry forest has experienced more severe deforestation then the eastern rainforest, this expansion is an important victory for conservation. What’s more, recent studies have shown with geospatial analysis of satellite images that reforestation has actually gained forest acreage more so than any deforestation occurring in the park. The challenge will come now, however, in monitoring this expansive range, as well as in garnering support from local communities. My hat’s off to Kirindy Mitea and their dedicated ANGAP crew.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cows and dogs and rats, oh my!

Prepared August 29, 2008

Mouse lemurs aren’t the only animals that I’m concerned about out here. Expanding human populations, which push the boundary into preserved areas for resource extraction, hunting, subsistence agriculture and cattle grazing, could lead to potentially huge impacts on the conservation and health of wildlife populations. Where humans go, their domesticated animals typically follow, and where domestic animals go, their parasites are sure to tag along. We can simply look to human history to see the implications of animal domestication. One of the major transitions in lifestyle occurred about 10,000 years ago as agriculture developed. By producing our own food and domesticating animals, humans were able to rapidly increase their populations, and began to live in denser aggregations like towns and cities. This increased density, along with the mixing of multiple species (humans and livestock) in a small area lead to an upsurgence of disease. Over 600 known parasites occur in domesticated animals, and over 60% of the over1400 parasites found in humans have come from a domestic animal origin. To make matters worse, all of these densely packed people and livestock attract another player into this equation—rodents. And as we all have learned from the 14th century’s Black Death, rodents are exceptional couriers of disease. Unfortunately, all of these issues are important to consider for conservation in Madagascar. Villages on the edge of reserves raise and graze their cattle through preserved areas, their dogs and cats wander through, and even humans leave their waste in the reserves. Additionally, the black rat (Rattus rattus) has expanded to cover the entire island since its accidental introduction in Madagascar. Even with this knowledge, I was not expecting to capture rats this summer. How wrong I was. It’s a good day if we capture more mouse lemurs than rats here in Kirindy Mitea. Rats can sneak up into mouse lemurs’ preferred habitat (generally above 2 meters in height), potentially competing for space and food resources, and certainly creating the potential for disease to transfer between the two species. I’m collecting rat fecal samples as well (remember, I said this was glamorous?) to see what disease issues we might be against.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Prepared August 25, 2008

Lepilemurs sneak into my dreams at night. It’s not hard, what with their loud, Iwok-sounding calls back and forth filling the forest night air. These nocturnal “sportive” lemurs are a delight to experience. As I brush my teeth, I shine my headlamp through the tops of the trees, looking for their distinctive marble-sized eyes staring back at me. They rest in hollows of trees during the day, saving up their energy to generate an auditory spectacle at night. I have other visitors at night as well—the legendary and elusive Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) comes by my tent at night every few days. A pair of them roams the camp looking for water and goodies, and they also have an insatiable curiosity. They will paw through my campsite at night, poking my tent just to figure out what it is. I sit bolt upright in my sleeping bag, thinking about the sheer millimeter of tent material that separates me from Madagascar’s largest carnivore…..But when my headlamp comes on and I give the tent a shake, the fossas are out of there. Or at least that’s what I keep hoping. Keeps you on your toes.

A sampler of night noises in Kirindy Mitea:

And an update: Well, the fossa did not stay quite so docile this time. Apparently he likes my shoes, or my feet smell like lemurs, because he chewed some nice chunks out of my sandals. A good souvenier story, right?