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In search of Madagascar's strangest lemur
Page 3
Rhett Butler
April 12, 2005

When beetles attack!
Longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae) in Madagascar
[continued from page 2]
Back on Nosy Mangabe, Armand and I enjoy our evening meal of rice -- the Malagasy staple food -- and locally-caught fish. As night falls the forest comes alive with the high-pitched squeaks of tiny mouse lemurs and the metallic drone of cicadas. We set out through the forest. It is warm and quite humid. There are few insects and again I have left the insect repellant behind knowing that it won't be needed in the forest; the mosquitoes are few and far between this time of year. As we heads towards the aye-aye-frequented areas, we see a number of frogs and Uroplatus geckos, which are now active and have no use for their camouflage as they hunt insects.

We visit a tree on the beach which is a favorite hunting ground for the aye-aye. Peering up into the tree with our head lamps, we look for the characteristic yellow eye-shine of the aye-aye. Lots of mouse lemurs dashing about, but no aye-aye, so we head back up into the forest to another tree where the aye-aye has been active recently. We know this, because earlier in the day Armand pointed out recently gnawed fruit on the ground below the tree.

We're climbing over some tree roots when we hear a loud buzzing sound almost like a distant helicopter. The vibration is followed by a "whump!" noise. Armand stops and turns with a puzzled look on his face. Another "Bzzzzz .... whump!" and Armand is suddenly hopping around shaking his leg furiously trying to dislodge a giant beetle that has attached itself to his bare skin. He reaches down an plucks the beetle off his knee rubbing the affected area. "Bzzz... whump! Bzzz ... whump! Bzzz ... whump!" There is a frenzy of colossal beetle activity. Then one lands directly on my face, its barbed legs digging into the skin around my check bone. Armand's mouth is agape as I hand him my camera and say "Quick, take a picture" but alas the beetle takes flight as he shoots. As quickly as the excitement began, it is over as the beetles disappear into the night.

We wait under the aye-aye tree. After about an hour as Armand is gently snoring -- he's still behind on sleep after an all-night funeral from a few days prior and our marathon night hikes and early mornings -- I hear the sound of falling fruit. I quietly get up and look for the aye-aye through a pair of night vision binoculars. I can't see any movement in the tree top. Armand wakes himself up with a loud snore a few minutes later and concludes the aye-aye is not coming tonight; we should head back. He's not convinced of my falling fruit claim.

Early the following morning we return to the aye-aye tree. On the way, we look up at some aye-aye nests for evidence of recent activity; the aye-aye will repair its nest every morning and an active nest will have fresh green leaves. We spot a nest with green leaves.

Fruit chewed by the aye-aye
Upon reaching the tree we find dozens of freshly chewed fruit remains -- the aye-aye was there last night. Armand says that a group of researchers tranquilized the animals two weeks ago and they have been shy since. It is possible that I spooked the aye-aye when I stood last night and that it then waited for us to leave. So close to seeing Madagascar's strangest animal--but now I have another reason to return to the world's most interesting wildlife destination -- the island that time forgot, Madagascar.

Befriending an Aye-aye
Gerald Durrell's encounter

The late Gerald Durrell, a prominent naturalist, had an amazing first encounter with the aye-aye. He describes his experience in his book The Aye-aye and I, "Then, to my alarm, it discovered my ear. 'Here' is seemed to say to itself, 'must lurk a beetle larva of royal proportions and of the utmost succulence.' It fondled my ear as a gourmet fondles a menu and then, with great care, it inserted its thin fingers. I resigned myself to deafness -- move over, Beethoven, I said to myself, here I come. To my astonishment, I could hardly feel the finger as it searched my ear like a radar probe for hidden delicacies. Finding my ear bereft of tasty and fragrant grubs, it uttered another faint 'humph' of annoyance and climbed up into the branches again."

Other things to do in the area:
  • Whale-watching: the Bay of Antongil supports a large population of humpback whales. US-based nonprofit, the Wildlife Conservation Society, runs a research center on Nosy Mangabe and is currently working on the development of an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan for the bay. The best time to see the whales is July through September.
  • Masoala: Between its long white sand beaches, coral reefs, and primary rainforest, the Masoala peninsula is a spectacular place to visit. Expeditions can be arranged through outfits based in Maroantsetra although Cortez Travel can set something up from the States. The Masoala is only accessible via boat.
  • Maroantsetra: Maroantsetra is the starting point for trips to the Masoala and Nosy Mangabe. It's a pleasant Malagasy town that is increasingly reliant upon ecotourism as a source of revenue. Maroantsetra and the surrounding area is a good place to buy vanilla beans.

    Other places to visit in Madagascar:
    Travel in Madagascar promises to be an interesting experience. Madagascar's wildlife is among the best in the world in terms of diversity, abundance, and approachability and travel to Madagascar for this purpose is most rewarding. Madagascar also offers spectacular landscapes, an unusual history, and a countryside full of generally friendly and wonderful people.

    For more ideas on Madagascar take a look at Visiting Madagascar: Where to go and what to do on my site.


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