Posts Tagged ‘madagascar’

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers to Madagascar!

by | February 18th, 2015

Madagascar

Madagascar.

When you see that word, what do you think? I will guess most of you will say “that DreamWorks cartoon!” King Julian!” or “I like to move it, move it!”

As a keeper at Oakland Zoo, I care for two species of lemur; Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Sclater’s lemurs (Eulemur flavifrons) and I think of the word “Madagascar” a little different than most. I immediately think of lemurs as well as orchids, chameleons, rainforests, fossa and many, many other unique and endangered species.1

There’s no place in the world like Madagascar. Formed over 88 million years ago, it is the world’s 4th largest island and 90% of its animals are found nowhere else on the planet! Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be able to visit such an amazing destination, but, indeed I did!

In November of 2014 my supervisor Margaret Rousser and I were invited by the director and founder of Centre ValBio, Dr. Patricia Wright, to visit her research center in Ranomafana National Park and assist in the capture and data collection of the park’s Milne-Edward sifaka’s (Propithecus edwardsi).

After a 27 hour flight from San Francisco and a 10 hour drive from Antananarivo, the country’s capitol, we finally reached the rainforest and Centre ValBio. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Mysterious. Downright awesome. These are the words that went through my mind as we arrived.

After resting up overnight after our long flight and equally exhaustive drive we were ready to see the park.

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Elizabeth holding a recovering adult

Along the length of the eastern Madagascan coast runs a narrow and steep escarpment containing much of the island’s remaining tropical lowland forest. Ranomafana National Park is located on this escarpment. The terrain is extremely hilly and trekking through the forest is challenging as the majority of the time you are ascending or descending these hills. My favorite areas were the ridge trails. Once you reach the ridges, you get a break from the extreme climbing and get to enjoy the views on either side of the hills.

On our first visit into Ranomafana Park with Dr. Wright, Margaret and I were able to see 5 different species of lemurs! To say we were lucky is not enough. Dr. Wright has been studying lemurs in this location for 30 years and was pleased and surprised at seeing so many lemur species on a single visit. We capped our perfect lemur day with an interesting evening, observing students collect data on the world’s smallest primate, a mouse lemur.3

After a few days waiting for the government to finally approve the permits required to capture the Milne-Edwards sifaka’s, we were on our way back into the forest! After a grueling 5 hour hike to one of the park’s most remote sites we arrived to find the lemurs, ready for their exams and new collars. The trackers, who spend much of their time in the forest observing the whereabouts of the different lemur groups and know the individuals intimately, had anesthetized a group of three adults, one male, two females and two infants!

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Putting on new ID collar (Photo Joan de la Malla)

Margaret and I jumped into our roles immediately! Margaret led a group of graduate students, instructing them on obtaining body measurements along with hair, ectoparasite and fecal collection. I helped the vet with physical exams, blood collection and removal and replacement of new ID collars. This was a most amazing experience. The adult lemurs are given anesthesia to avoid undo stress as they are wild animals unused to being handled by humans. This ensures their safety as well as the humans’ handling them. The infant lemurs are not anesthetized and stay on their moms until the physical exam is performed. The babies are then held by a human until their mother is done with her exam and they are quickly returned to her. It may seem this is too stressful for the animal but the babies seem to feel secure as long as they have an adult primate to cling too. They contentedly sat in our arms, looking at all the things happening around them with no struggling our stressful vocalizations.

We stayed that night camping in the rainforest, which was an adventure in itself, with the lovely pit toilet and cute little leeches!  The next morning we awoke to the sounds of black and white ruffed lemur groups vocalizing around us. The Milne-Edwards sifakas were checked by the vet to ensure they all had recovered fully from the previous day and then the trackers returned them to the same location they had been captured so the lemurs could resume their normal daily life.

The rest of us returned to Centre ValBio’s laboratory where we began processing samples taken from the animals.

The second group we helped with a few days later was just as exciting but luckily only a 30 minute hike to the site instead of 5 hours! We had one adult male, two adult females and one infant. Again, all went well, and once recovered, the animals were returned to their original location.

Once done with our Ranomafana animal captures Margaret and I had a few days to see a little more of Madagascar when we traveled 4 hours by car to visit a village which ran their own lemur sanctuary. This was very exciting for us because at this location they only had one species- ring tailed lemurs!

Anja Community Reserve covers about 75 acres and nearly 300 RT lemurs call it home. It is completely operated by the villagers, who protect the forest, serve as guides and perform administrative tasks.

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

Mama and baby ring tailed lemur at Anja Community Reserve

We arrived at dusk and could hear the lemurs calling to each other in the forest below our hotel, I got goose bumps as I immediately recognized the calls as they are the same vocalization I hear from my lemurs at Oakland Zoo! Early the next morning Margaret and I along with a guide and a tracker, headed into the reserve. I was soon choked up with joy as we encountered our first wild lemur group! These lemurs have all been desensitized to the proximity of humans and Margaret and I were able to get quite close. It was amazing to sit in the forest as 100s of lemurs meandered, scampered, jumped, vocalized and foraged all around us. Our guides had a vast knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna as this was their own backyard. They could spot a tiny chameleon who looked like a little twig to me, or another one that was the same green as the leaf he was sitting on!

November was the perfect time to visit Madagascar as there were many babies to be seen. So many cute little guys were riding their moms, daring to be brave and jumping to the ground only to be surprised by a blowing leaf and running back to the safety of momma’s back! It was interesting to see the large troupes of lemurs of all different ages combing the forest together. The older animals were much more interested in foraging for tasty fruit while the youngsters played tag through the trees!

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Margaret and Elizabeth with Veterinarian Hajanirina Rakotondrainibe at Centre ValBio

Overall, the trip to Madagascar was an unforgettable journey. Seeing the country, its animals and people was a life changing event. I can’t wait to return to the beautiful Island and continue to see more of the amazing and unique things it has to offer!

Oakland Zoo ZooKeepers in the Field in Madagascar!

by | November 20th, 2014

AWE!

Awesome is really the only way to describe Centre ValBio. The Brain Child of Dr. Patricia Wright, it is a state of the art research center located steps away from Ranomafana National Park. The raw beauty of the native flora and fauna of Madagascar surrounds you from every angle. At the same, time, the Centre has two floors of dorm rooms and several state of the art laboratories for researchers and study abroad students from all over the world. The sheer amount of research that is possible here is staggering, and the hard working staff atCentre ValBio make the most of it! There are also several satellite camps out in the forest where researchers and students can stay while doing observations. The Centre, however is home base, with electricity, Wifi, and hot showers right on the edge of the Park. One of the few places where primary forest still survives, you can easily run into several species of lemurs on one morning hike.

We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Wright give us a personal tour of a small section of the forest on our first day here.. She showed us her first campsite in the forest some 28 years ago, when she first discovered a new species of lemur. That lemur, the golden bamboo lemur, just happened to be the first one we saw in the wild in the forest – and we saw it with her! On the first trek, we also saw sifakas, red bellied lemurs and red fronted lemurs. We even saw black and white ruffed lemurs, which are not often found in that particular part of the forest.

Slash and BurnBamboo lemur

Centre Val Bio

One of the most striking things I saw on the trek, however, was not the lemurs, but the interactions between Dr. Wright and the locals. Ranomafana National Park is becoming more and more an eco-tourist site, similar to the model used in Rwanda with mountain gorillas. Most recently a French Colony, French is the most common language spoken outside of the native Malagasy which makes it a Mecca for French tourists. We must have run into at least 10 tour groups that day. My French is rusty, but I am able to speak enough to converse and understand most of what was said. Dr. Wright knew every single guide by name! She stopped to speak with each of them and they all made a point to introduce her to their tour groups as the founder of the park and the discoverer of the golden bamboo lemur. They were undeniably proud of her and their forest and cared deeply about the animals that inhabited it. One group had never heard of her, but after the guide explained who she was and how important she was to the park, they lined up to take their pictures with her.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most people survive on less than $2/day. That poverty was evident on the 10 hour drive we took from the capital city of Antanarivo (simply called Tana by the locals) to the Centre. However, Dr. Wright has done everything in her power to transform this area. Conservation is not just about research, it is also about the people.   The construction of Centre ValBio has brought jobs, education, and even electricity and clean water to the local town of Ranomafana. Logging has all but stopped in the area and though the slash and burn agriculture is apparent all around, more and more locals are finding employment not just at the Centre, but at local luxury hotels that are popping up in the area, bringing even more money into the local economy. Dr. Wright brought us to her Women’s Weaving Centre where the women make their own money by weaving the most beautiful scarves and bags out of cotton and a locally produced silk. In the center of Ranomafana, you can buy perfectly crafted baskets, woven placemats, and carvings made from sustainable wood.

Women Weaver signWeaver

While it may have been the lemurs that brought her here, Dr. Wright has improved life for all of the local inhabitants – human, animal, and plant. She is an inspiration. Earlier this year, she became the first woman ever to win the Indianapolis Prize for Conservation. She jokes that it is fitting that someone who studies matriarchal primates be the first woman to win that prize, but the truth is she deserves it either way! Dr. Wright’s work is the epitome of a well-rounded conservation program and Oakland Zoo is proud and honored to be a part of it.

Leaping Lemurs!

by | March 25th, 2014
ringtails

Ring-tailed lemurs at Oakland Zoo

Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, is a beautiful hotspot for biodiversity.  It is estimated that 90% of the plants and animals living in Madagascar are endemic, meaning they occur nowhere else in the world!  Unfortunately, the island nation (about the size of the state of Texas) and its inhabitants are facing some extreme threats.

While it may be rich in biodiversity, the Malagasy people are among the poorest in the world.  It is estimated that over 92% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.  A military coup in 2009 caused further economic instability, and the subsequent anarchy increased the illegal logging of rosewood.  One of the few reliable sources of income, thousands of Malagasy people flocked to the rosewood forests to support their families.  In addition to the problem of rapid deforestation, many people turned to lemurs as a source of protein, illegally hunting them for bush meat.

Eugene

Sclater’s or Blue Eyed lemur at Oakland Zoo. Photo Credit: Anthony C. Brewer

Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world.  Of the 101 species of lemur in Madagascar, IUCN considers 60 of them endangered or critically endangered.  Another 20 species are considered vulnerable.  Lemurs are prosimians, meaning that they are primates, but still maintain many “primitive” characteristics of other mammals such as the bicornate uterus.  Like other primates, they do possess opposable thumbs and fingernails rather than claws.    Oakland Zoo houses two species of lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs and Sclaters or Blue-Eyed lemurs.  Blue eyed lemurs have been listed as one of the 25 most endangered primates for over 6 years.

Conserving lemurs is critically important for the biodiversity of Madagascar.  While logging of Rosewood is illegal, the political unrest that has been extant in Madagascar for over 4 years has allowed it to not only continue, but to increase.  Rosewood is valued for its rich color and hard texture, making it good for furniture.  While the supply comes from Madagascar, the demand for this wood is right here in the US and throughout the western world.  Recently, the Malagasy people elected a president and hopes are high that a stable government system will rein in the illegal logging and poaching practices that have become commonplace.

DSC_0047

Two of Oakland Zoo’s lemurs actually painting!

However, the fact remains that rosewood is mainly sold to westerners.  If the demand were lower or nonexistent, the motivation for deforestation would be almost nonexistent.  So what can you do to protect lemurs in Madagascar?  Do not purchase furniture made from rosewood, and educate your friends and family about the plight of the lemurs.  Email or call Genny Greene (genny@oaklandzoo.org or call (510)632-9529 ext. 167) to learn how you can win a special Behind-the-Scenes visit with our very own lemurs here at Oakland Zoo. Your special visit will include an actual in-person live painting made by our lemurs made just for you. All proceeds will go to lemur conservation efforts in Madagascar (see below for more detailed information). And don’t forget to go see the new IMAX film – Island of the Lemurs which opens on April 4th.

**All proceeds from the raffle benefit lemur conservation through Centre Val Bio.  Centre Val Bio is a research station in Madagascar run by Dr. Patricia Wright who has been studying lemurs for more than two decades.  She is the founder of Centre Val Bio and the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments which led to the establishment of Ranomafauna National Park in Madagascar.  Dr. Wright was the sole scientific advisor for the upcoming IMAX film “Island of the Lemurs” which will be released on April 4th.  For more information:   http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/index.html