Well, it’s been a non-stop adventure since I stepped off that plane from China! As you may recall I recently accepted a spontaneous supervisor role in Madagascar over July with Operation Wallacea.
I flew to Madagascar with Ethiopian Airlines; my first time. On the outbound journey a baby was plonked into my lap. "Who is this?" I asked as the baby beamed up at me. The Ethiopian passenger next to me laughed at my surprise, and shrugged.
"No idea." The passenger said as she closed her eyes and lent back into her seat.
"Where is the mother?!" I whispered as the baby started to nod off in my arms. I frantically looked around. A woman three seats in front smiled and waved at me. Ah, there she was. I thought this was bizarre. Before I knew it, four other babies started being passed around the plane. Everyone appeared to do their bit to assist the mothers. I liked it. TIA. This is Africa.
After a long, babysitting journey, I arrived in Antananarivo; the capital of Madagascar. I had been here in 2011 for my masters project on Ring-tailed lemurs. Last time I was here, I had eaten in a Michelin star restaurant for under £25, had a dance party with a local band, and explored the colonial centre. There was no time for such antics on this trip, however. Instead, I hopped in a vehicle and traveled a further 15 hours to Mahajanga on the west coast. I would be working in two forest fragments which were home to many incredible species.
I arrived in the main camp to a sea of tents. Up in the trees above my head was a troop of Coquerel’s sifaka (lemurs); so named for the supposed sound they make. I was instantly hooked as several pairs of yellow eyes peered down at me. I was also greeted by my students; five women with friendly smiles and lots of energy. We nicknamed ourselves the Sifaka Squad.
The camps were busy! Besides my five students, there were a further ca. 15 other university students, research assistants, scientists, staff, and visiting school students. The camps had character: long drop toilets with proper seats (yes, that’s luxury!) and resident cockroaches, small shops selling freshly cooked samosas and local Three Horses beer, bucket showers, and hammocks galore! We lived off beans and rice. With my rice obsession, I couldn’t be happier!
I quickly revamped my student’s projects and thoroughly enjoyed working closely with them; sharing my lemur and behaviour ecology knowledge. I was working towards a teaching qualification in higher education so I documented everything I was doing and trialed different teaching styles. The students were eager to learn and were incredibly appreciative of my efforts. Thanks, Sifaka Squad!
We went out twice a day in search of semi-habituated sifaka groups. Along the way the forest was teeming with other life: mouse lemurs, birds of prey, chameleons, and lizard-eating snakes. Upon finding the sifakas, the students started taking their data for their various projects; all looking at the influence of human settlements and proximity on lemur behaviour.
One of the best things I did was to borrow a UV light and hunt out scorpions around my tent! Wow! I was surprised how well camouflaged they were until you shone a UV light on them! I understand why we were advised to wear shoes at all times!
No sooner had I arrived, the three weeks were up. I had done countless workshops and lectures with the students, and was super proud of how far they’d come. I even managed to squeeze in some PhD reading and wrote some of my book I am working on.
I only took one day off during the whole period and trekked several hours across the savanna to the coast - absolutely stunning! Myself and my two hilarious medic friends ate local barbecued fish and watched fisherman sail by.
My journey home was eventful. We left in a huge cattle truck which got stuck in the mud in the middle of a thunderstorm. Once rescued, I was then car sick on the way back to the capital. Perfect. I finally flew home via Ethiopia but had to spend the night in Addis Abada. I bonded with four Zimbabweans in the taxi on the way to the hotel - we ended up having dinner and breakfast together the next day before my flight. They were awesome.
The aim of this trip was to assist and advise five students whilst also building up a case study for my teaching qualification. I was lucky enough to see some gorgeous lemurs and chameleons in the process. Besides the new worm family I am harbouring in my belly, it was a mission accomplished!