I LIKE TO MOVE IT, MOVE IT
Once again I am on the move! This trip was not planned, however. I am off to the island of Madagascar; the land of baobab trees, vanilla pods and King Julian. I leave this Thursday (!) and am therefore frantically tying up loose ends before I jet set for three weeks. I am going on a fully-funded research trip (unrelated to my PhD) to supervise five students in the field. I will once again be working for Operation Wallacea (Opwall); a non-govenmental organisation notorious for their environmental education work.
When I told a friend my news they replied, "Oh! How wonderful! Off swinging with the gibbons again?" I was disappointed to say the least. More in myself for not doing my gibbon education job better! Gibbons are only found in Asia, not Africa. Madagascar belongs to the African continent. I'm sure you have all seen the animated movie "Madagascar"? A real classic! No gibbons feature in there. Just a lot of lemurs. Madagascar is the only place in the world where you can find lemurs, and are therefore endemic to this island.
I did my primatology masters project with the University of Roehampton (a wonderful university FYI and worth sending your kids to!). I studied the impact of tourism on Ring-tailed lemur behaviour. For three months I lived next to a tourist resort in a small patch of forest which was home to cheeky Brown lemur hybrids, dancing Verreauxi sifakas, and of course, the icon of Madagascar: the Ring-tailed lemur.
I followed two troops (groups) of lemurs recording their every move. I examined their proximity to tourists, whether they were being fed, aggressive outbursts within the troops, the percentage of time they spent doing their daily activities, and compared how big their home ranges were. Although tourism can support conservation efforts, if it is unregulated it can have negative connotations (which is what I found in my study). If you are really desperate to read my thesis, you can do so here.
It was a magical time. I had regular close encounters with suspicious chameleons. I was stung by neon green paper wasps. And was often snuck up on by troops of sifakas, also known as the 'Ghosts of the Forest' due to their white fur and stealthy antics.
I first worked for Opwall last year in Sulawesi (one of the 17,500 islands that make up Indonesia). I was employed as their Ecology Lecturer - and often as an interpreter between local Indonesian staff and international newbies. I was blown away with Opwall's professional operation. I had a fantastic line manager who was efficient, always on hand and extremely approachable. The students I taught were super engaged. My international colleagues were from all walks of life and a really good laugh. They also took me on regular bat and herpetology (amphibians and reptiles) surveys to look at abundance. I was therefore very excited, albeit surprised, when I received an email a few days ago explaining that an Opwall supervisor had had visa issues and couldn't make the trip.
I was naturally in two minds: it was a great opportunity but I'm also a PhD student with a teaching and museum job. I put the idea past my primary supervisor, Helen, who instantly jumped at the opportunity. Helen is always so enthusiastic and encouraging, and every time we meet I feel so lucky to have her on my team. I am working towards a teaching qualification in Higher Education (i.e. to teach university level students) and Helen explained that I could use this opportunity as a case study.
Just a bit of last minute packing, a few date nights with my lovely, supportive beau, a museum shift, and one final visit to see my AgeUK friend, and I'm ready! I even managed to squeeze in a lovely date with one of my besties today who is getting married upon my return.
See you in Madagascar!