Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Varikandana



21st November

The black-and-white ruffed lemur has always been my favourite of all. It’s rare (all three subspecies are, tragically, listed as critically endangered by IUCN); it lives in remote and wonderful forests; it’s acrobatically arboreal, preferring the tops of mighty rainforest trees; it’s strikingly beautiful, in pattern and pelage; and it’s hard to see. I love black-and-white ruffed lemurs and I was secretly very disappointed that we failed to see them on my last tour.

Things didn’t bode well for our seeing them on this tour either. When my current group reached Andasibe I asked Naturetrek’s brilliant local guide, Maurice, about the ruffed lemurs and he replied that they hadn’t been seen by anyone in more than a week.

Today we made the long journey to Mantadia’s beautiful primary forest and I whispered to Maurice and our lemur tracker Marcelin that, having seen indris and diademed sifakas superbly yesterday, the ruffed lemurs were our main priority here. Shortly after our arrival, after stops for a pair of white-throated rails and their night-black chicks, and for a pair of intricately lovely short-legged ground rollers, we heard the unmistakable snarling calls of the ruffed lemurs on the ridge above us. We bee-lined up the ridge, naturally, stopping to admire a placid indri chewing leaves and to let Maurice and Marcelin go ahead to scout for the lemurs.

Marcelin found them and called to us across a forest valley. My intrepid Naturetrekkers took the steep slope, the gnarled roots and the tangled vegetation in their stride and soon we were watching magnificent black-and-white ruffed lemurs as they fed on fat fruits at the top of a tall tree. But these were not just any ruffed lemurs; these were the same parents I saw in October last year and their four young who were then tiny infants, just learning to scamper through the treetops. The young are big and strong now and showed their strength and agility by tumbling down lianas until they were just in front of us and leaping effortlessly from one tree to the next.

We were ecstatic and my group agreed with me that these were among the finest of lemurs. More was to come though, in the shape of two startling Baron’s mantella frogs, two eastern grey bamboo lemurs, and pairs of Meller’s ducks, Madagascar little grebes, Madagascar starlings and broad-billed rollers.

Tonight is my last in Madagascar this year. If the rainclouds don’t defeat us (they did two nights ago but not last night) we’ll take another walk in the forest in the hope of finding chameleons, dwarf lemurs and leaf-tailed geckos. For now I’m typing on my rainforest verandah, a crested drongo singing in the trees above me and a brush warbler weaving through the undergrowth. I shall greatly miss Madagascar, as I miss every country in which I'm privileged to work, but part of me too will be very glad to be home. Slavonian grebe (and frost), here I come.


New today

Mammals

129
southern black-and-white ruffed lemur
Varecia variegata editorum

Birds

989
white-throated rail
Dryolimnas cuvieri
990
short-legged ground-roller
Brachypteracias leptosomus

Amphibians

23
Baron’s mantella
Mantella baroni

2012 Totals
Mammals: 129
Birds: 990
Reptiles: 76
Amphibians: 23
Fish: 12


A note for the linguistically minded: The title of this post is the word used by Maurice, who has lived all his life in Andasibe, for the black-and-white ruffed lemur. My superb Naturetrek co-leader Claude, who is from the north of Madagascar and who has travelled the island’s length and breadth many times, uses the word varikandra which seems to be a more widespread name for the species. Just thought you’d want to know.

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