Saturday, 11 August 2012

Crazy Busy Weeks

Camp seems empty and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief tonight. The last few weeks have been crazy. First Ed came for a few weeks and kept shouting at everyone and hiring dozens of workers to build and repair things around the camp. There are several new bridges over the drainage ditches, a concrete food storage building that is supposed to be rat-proof, lots of new sun shades for the tree nursery, and a large flat terrace carved out of the hill for a vegetable garden. KAFS is a work in progress and a permanent construction site, so every now and then you run into a new ditch or fence or people mixing cement.

The dart team showed up a few days after Ed. Most of the radio collars on our animals have dead batteries, and you have to shoot the animals with a tranquilizer dart to change the collars, so I got to cuddle some lemurs. Male bamboo lemurs have a strong musky smell from the large scent glands under their armpits, and they scent mark by rubbing their armpits on branches. They like to put their arms around you and hold on, even when half asleep, so after you hold a lemur you also smell like their territory. The technician changes the collar, checks the microchip and takes some measurements, then somebody needs to watch the animal carefully until until it recovers enough to be put into a pillowcase. Lemurs do not usually lie down so they feel better hanging from a tree in a pillowcase than lying in a cage.

The weird part is you can't put them into the pillowcase until they are strong enough to not get their necks into a position that blocks the airway, and they sometimes start crawling clumsily before they reach that point. Those ones need to be held and they like to cling to you. They have a very strong grip, even when drugged. They usually recover quite quickly and they can be released three hours after darting. The anaesthetic does weird things to the animals. For one thing their eyes are open the whole time, and you have to put special gunk to keep the eyes moist. Bamboo lemurs always seem to stick out their tongues, but the black and white ruffed lemurs don't. Oh, and one suddenly woke up and crawled off the scale while we were weighing it. Luckily Melanie grabbed it before it got very far.

We had one lemur that turned out to be old and sick and very skinny, and he slept a long time. I had him pressed against my chest for two hours to prevent hypothermia and the technician kept giving him IV fluids. I named him Elvis and he did finally wake up and we put him back in the forest where we got him. The next day we went back to check on him, and the signal from the radio collar was coming from the very spot where we released him. You can tell the direction of the signal very accurately and this signal was coming from the ground. Everybody went quiet and started combing through the bushes for a little furry body, but after a very long few minutes Theoluc came up with the collar. It must have fallen off within hours. I can confirm that Elvis is alive though: I have seen him twice since then, eating and chasing another lemur. He is visibly skinny and has a unique bald patch on his throat so I recognize him without the collar. We will not dart him again because he is not well. He is one of my favourites and I hope he hangs on a while longer.

 In case that wasn't enough excitement, the next arrival was a TV crew from the BBC. They brought at least 30 people and several tons of equipment and took the place over. They brought eight little British kids and filmed the kids watching lemurs and visiting a school and stuff. It's called Deadly Mission Madagascar, and we all had a good laugh about the title. It was somewhat interesting watching them and they were pretty good in the forest. The lemurs are really well habituated; they were fine with twenty people crashing throught the forest around them.

Anyway, everyone is gone now and it is just the usual dozen people at KAFS. The place seems a different without all the chaos, and hopefully we can get back to work as usual.


  1. Elvis lives! Sounds like you had a lot of activity.

  2. so glad to hear of your activity. sounds like lots has been accomplished lately. we will watch for you on BBC Your dad is telling me useful things about computer that help me. He is here. Talk, talk
    we have been reading about Covert genealogy. my mum was a Covert. Your lemurs sound cute and cuddly.

  3. Makes you enjoy the quiet more, when people have been and gone...
    Glad you are well!!
    I don't suppose anyone took photos of you cuddling lemurs...

  4. Grandad has been reading Richard Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale". he read me the part about lemurs. It tells about Madagascar too.

  5. hey sarah ! (hope it's the good one) i've lost joe's contact information and yours also ! could you send it to me via email or on Facebook ? Thanks again for the weekend ! All girls say hi. Best, Aurélien PACCARD.