Night Walk in the Spiny Forest?

Got back Thursday from four days in the forest near Ifotaka village studying sifaka (a species of lemur). We conducted studies on its habitat preferences, population density, and behaviors; and it was the most fun science ever.

It took hours to get there (by car–because of the horrible roads), and once we arrived in the village we loaded our bags into an ox-cart and hiked through the sacred forest there to our camp site, two hours away. Saw some elaborate tombs in the sacred forest, but not much else. Ifotaka doesn’t get much rain–it is usually hot and dry, and as such the species that thrive there have adapted well to those conditions. It seems completely otherworldly: trees covered in thorns, curvy shrubs that look sort of like a hand coming up from the ground, cactii everywhere. The campsite was right at the base of a steep wall that I climbed up with a friend, and we looked out to a riverbed that is almost completely dry, save pools of water here and there, stretching out for miles. Such weird country.

find claudia

Because it is so hot during the day, we started early in the morning and siesta’ed through the afternoon, going out for the afternoon only around 3pm. Pretty nice schedule, in my opinion, with naps before and after lunch and time to explore the area outside of science. We saw sifakas, makis (ring-tailed lemurs), and mouse lemurs (which we saw at night with the aide of two local guides there); and later, when we stopped at Berenty Reserve, we also saw brown lemurs. They are such funny animals: sifakas jump from thorny tree to thorny tree (babies gripping their bellies) or hop as if on a pogo stick. And the food was good, except that after so many days of bread and jam and peanut butter in the morning, I was ready for some change in my diet (except the peanut butter they made there, which I could eat every day forever).

And camping is so nice–I have a well-defined personal space, unlike in Ft. Dauphin, where my room doesn’t even have a door; I feel like I can see every star in the sky, it is so clear; it is so wonderful.

We gave presentations when we got back to school and promptly started a new (short) unit on ethnobotany. Unfortunately, it was a miserable rainy cold dark day, and the field trip was a bit rocky. We packed into the “big man”‘s house in a village near Mondromondromotro and talked with him for a long time just to get permission to drive further and talk to another guide, and the man was definately tweeking out on something. By the time we arrived, it was getting dark and everyone was tired. It was interesting, though: Madagascar is full of useful plants, and probably no one knows more about them than the local practitioners.

Next, we will spend a week in rural villages near Faux Cap, a bit southwest from Ft. Dauphin along the coast. The family I am staying with has “plus de 30 enfants.” We leave tomorrow morning. Wish me luck.

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