Image Gallery for Album "Life as a Volunteer"

I spent 8 weeks from July to September 2007 volunteering for Lemur Venture - A joint project involving Azafady, a local grassroots NGO based in Fort Dauphin, and Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza (PBZT), the governmental partner. As volunteers, we spent time in the bush collecting data about lemur numbers and behaviour. We were led by Matthew Banks, a primatologist from Stony Brook University. The data we collect is likely to be used in captive breeding programs and reforestaton efforts as well as by researchers trying to better understand Madagascar's complex ecosystems.

Following some orientation at PBZT in Antananarivo, and some further orientation in Fort Dauphin, we headed out first to the spiny forests of Ifotaka and then to the Littoral forests of St Luce.

Our work in the Spiny forests of Ifotaka was divided into three parts. The first was transecting, where we stuck position markers every 25 metres on different paths of around 3km length. We walked these paths every morning and recorded data for every lemur group seen. The second observation activity was Point Counts, where we sat on the high ridges and noted down any activity we saw in the 1500m or so that was visible. This data will be used with a statistical model to estimate lemur populations in the area. The highlight of our time there was the night walks, where we walked the transects looking for the nocturnal lemurs. The researchers from PBZT were more interested in Botany and feeding behaviour and our third task was to help with a botanical survey; we sampled random 4x4m squares and catalogued every plant in them. There was also a brief habituation exercise towards the end, where we tried to get within a few metres without the sifakas running away - close enough to see what they eat (plant type; leaf/bud/flower etc). Sifakas are very shy and it takes around 4 days for them to let you get close and observe. We didnt have time for observation - that is for future Lemur Ventures.

Our second stint in the bush was in an area called St Luce. It used to be one big littoral forest, but thanks to slash and burn agriculture it is now 17 fragments, the largest of which is 3km long and around 1.5km across. To make it more complicated, there is titanium in the sand, and the government has provisionally given the area to the mining company QMM. Their plan is to preserve the two largest fragments and dig up the rest. This is due to happen in around 15 years time. In the meantime, QMM is supposed to prepare an environmental impact report, and they have a team of researchers in the area. Azafady and PBZT are doing a separate impact study. The big question, which noone seems to know the answer to, is how interdependent the forest fragments are. For example do lemur groups cross over between fragments, does this affect the genepool they have at their disposal etc. The lemur we are studying here, Collared Brown Lemur, is active both day and night and its home range is not clear. Current estimates vary between 3 to 50 hectares. Its also unclear where they get their nutrition from - no ones done a feeding study that covers the full year. Our botany study here suggests that the different fragments have quite different tree types, depending on how close they are to the sea or the estuary and their elevation. These trees bear fruit in different seasons, and the lemurs might possibly need to travel around to find the right trees. PBZT is very interested in the role of lemurs in forest regeneration. When they eat a fruit, they don't bite the seeds, and the seeds get pooed out pretty much intact. So lemurs are involved in trasporting seeds within their home range. PBZT is interested in comparing lemur poo germination rates with seeds from intact fruit. A lot of our work in St Luce involved following a group of lemurs around, IDing the trees they ate at, and collecting seed samples from their poo... We planted 25 seeds each from fruit and from poo for each plant type in the Azafady nursery at Ambandrika, and will get germination results shortly. We identified 34 different trees that Collared Brown Lemurs fed on, and the next Lemur Venture will identify the food trees in the summer/wet season.

Apart from botany studies, transect counts and lemur feeding/travel behaviour work, we also did presense/absence studies in the smaller fragments. Over a period of time, this should indicate whether the lemurs move around or not.

Azafady and PBZT have just staged a big coup in Fort Dauphin. the govt has awarded them management of the highest peak there (Peak St Luis) and the area around it. They plan to reforest it, reintroduce the lemur species that used to be there and set up a small zoo and educational centre for the locals. So all the feeding data we have collected might go directly into deciding plant types for the reforestation. Everyone is really looking forward to the Peak St Luis project.
Nature, Travel
July 17 - Sept 11 2007
Images: 71
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Alongside orientation and classroom sessions, we got to help out at PBZT - mostly chopping veggies for the animals and cleaning out enclosures (54 KB)
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We also had the chance to see the Aye Aye upclose in the Nocturnal enclosure (51 KB)
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And the Fossa (87 KB)
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and the very rare Madagascar Fishing Eagle (38 KB)
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Having Lunch in Tana after spending the morning at PBZT. Lindsay is still stuck in Paris after missing her connection. But we seem to have kept a seat for her (76 KB)
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This was I think the holding room for botanical discoveries. The lady in the foreground is sticking a plant sample into a file. Eventually, when they know what to do with it, it goes into a rather neater room with filing cabinets - see next picture. (68 KB)
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This is the botanical database at PBZT. Drawers and drawers containg files of plant details and samples (52 KB)
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PBZT has a pretty impressive collection of plants, particularly the palm collection. heres the greenhouse (76 KB)
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The Azafady campsite at Lanirano, a few km north of Fort Dauphin. This was the holding site we came back to between our two trips to the bush. (77 KB)
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Lots of stray dogs in Madagascar, many of them semi-domesticated. This one is called Peanuts. (74 KB)
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Gremlin, from Lanirano. (80 KB)
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Peanuts (53 KB)
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Some doggies bring you flowers! (75 KB)
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Our taxi brousse (see the page on travelling) (57 KB)
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Taxi Brouses have many uses (55 KB)
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They also take their own time getting anywhere. This 100km trip took us around 12 hours (58 KB)
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in the middle of nowhere, but in no hurry (27 KB)
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Mora Mora, as the Malagassy say... (27 KB)
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Sometimes when the road ends, help comes in the form of zebu carts (97 KB)
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Matt Banks, our resident primatologist, planned the research side of things (63 KB)
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Entering the spiny forests for the first time (72 KB)
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Our campsite on the river Mahavelu near Ifotaka. This being the dry season, it was more like a pond. Mine is the red tent in the middle of the picture (98 KB)
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The water was nice for a dip in the afternoons (107 KB)
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Anna cooling off (87 KB)
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Plenty of photo oppurtunities (84 KB)
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Most of our work in the spiny forest involved censusing lemurs. Heres a Sifaka (87 KB)
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And another - they exhibit a lot of variation in how brown they are (132 KB)
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Mister Cool Sifaka (102 KB)
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Censusing is fun. How many ringtails can you spot? (123 KB)
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On Nocturnal Transects, we counted White Footed Sportive Lemurs such as this (44 KB)
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and gray-brown mouse lemurs such as this (44 KB)
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There was plenty of time to check out the other exotic wildlife here - This is the Crested Coua (104 KB)
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There were also snakes, (50 KB)
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tortoises, (83 KB)
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lizards (97 KB)
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and Baobabs (68 KB)
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View of the spiny forest (67 KB)
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How to make a mandolin with an Axe (87 KB)
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Maybe buying a red tent was not such a good idea... I encountered another camping hazard later in Andasibe, when the flat ground i found to pitch on turned out to be a football pitch - click for a piccie. (93 KB)
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Our campsite was visited by Antandroy tribesmen (75 KB)
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Lala and Yvon sharing a quiet moment. You are never alone on a campsite (111 KB)
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For amusement, we had locally made mandolins (though Adam preferred the Antandroy spears). (79 KB)
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Civilisation at last - Matt enjoys some THB in Ifotaka on the way back to Fort Dauphin (41 KB)
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There are 17 fragments of Littoral forest in St Luce. Fragment S17 is only accessible be pirogue. (53 KB)
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Pirogue parking at S17 (35 KB)
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Leaving S17 (81 KB)
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The campsite at Ambandrika, next to the S9 fragment. My tent in foreground, with Sara and hammock in background (122 KB)
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Sara emerges from the bog (111 KB)
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the lemurs are that way (79 KB)
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Volunteers observing Lemurs. In the littoral forests of St Luce, we were mainly observing Collared Brown Lemurs, with an emphasis on feeding behaviour. (42 KB)
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Lemurs observing volunteers. "Do these more evolved primates really want to collect our poo?" (74 KB)
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Primatologists at work. Lemurs can spend long periods not doing very much. So can primatologists. (55 KB)
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Walking through S17 (102 KB)
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There are three nocturnal lemurs around St Luce. This is the Brown mouse lemur - it has just been feeding on something very yellow. (43 KB)
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Fat tailed dwarf lemur, St Luce (64 KB)
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Wooly Lemur, St Luce (55 KB)
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As with the spiny forests, there was lots to see besides lemurs. Heres a chamelion (36 KB)
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And a Tree Boa (77 KB)
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This is a web-throwing spider. It holds its web with four hands and charges its prey. the web is really stretchey and it can catch insects many times its size. (31 KB)
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The Madagascar pygmy kingfisher. Like so many of madagascars animals, this has evolved to be different. It has no tail! and it does not eat fish! It feeds on lizards, frogs and insects. (40 KB)
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A Forest Rat, St Luce (60 KB)
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Mistletoe that glows in the dark (64 KB)
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Our campste in S17 (118 KB)
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S17 Campsite. The good news is the beach. the bad news is that there is no fresh water in this fragment, and we had to pirogue drinking water (and rum) in (116 KB)
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Another view of our campsite from across the bay (69 KB)
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One Sunday, we sat on a rock by the beach and watched the Humpback whales playing (48 KB)
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Sylvie (40 KB)
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Loading the pirogues to head back to the mainland after a week in S17 (58 KB)
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Boys with maps. Where are we? (69 KB)