Nina’s ‘notes from the field’: August

August 26, 2018

MANDRAPIHAONA MADAGASCAR

 

[See you soon Madagascar]

 

And just like that we have reached the end of my 8 months. Here is my final post from the field!

Due to the team 1 and team 2 expeditions being staggered I had a couple of weeks out of the forest, and so took the opportunity to take a little vacation! I took a trip to Ifaty (on the southwest coast) with a wonderful group of people from CVB – Mariah, Mandi, Lotte, Michael, Rasolo and Alicia. We spent four days living our best lives sunbathing on the beach, going whale-watching on the Mozambique Channel, visiting the spiny forest at Reniala, and even enjoying a perfect view of the “blood moon” under the clear, starry night sky. It was great to see another part of this diverse island, to see a completely different ecosystem to that of Ranomafana, and of course to enjoy a few luxuries like cocktails and sun loungers.

 

The following week, it was back to Mangevo, for one last time. Except this time, I wasn’t going to follow animals, instead I was helping out with the darting season. Our darting dream team consisted of; 

  • Andrea (PI of field site): morphometrics mogul, keeper of collars

  • Fidy (vet): THE fountain of knowledge

  • Nichole (vet student): America’s finest apprentice 

  • Aparna (MA student at Hunter PMEL): chief lemur-cuddler, impeccable inventory-ist

  • Michael (student at the University of Tana): Mr. Microchip

  • Noro (PhD student at the University of Tana, affiliated with PMEL): Princess of Parasites

  • Giulia (field assistant): dental mold extraordinaire 

  • And me: head of the world’s first “Varecia Salon”

 

But what does a ‘darting season’ consist of, you might ask? Well, let me explain. At Mangevo we follow focal animals from two adjacent communities and do so by tracking the animals’ radio-collars to find them for follows. To do this the animals they need to be tranquilised and brought back to the ‘lab’ in camp to be fitted with collars. Whilst the animals are at camp we also take a number of other samples and measurements for the many projects Andrea is currently undertaking. I got to learn many different sampling techniques including dental molds, buccal swabs, tissue biopsy punches, blood draws, microchipping, parasite collection and morphometric measurements. It was an amazing learning experience. I should probably take this moment to explain what I mean by “Varecia Salon” – my jobs on the processing team were to do buccal (cheek) swabs, take biopsy punches of ear tissue, and cut hair samples (for isotope analysis) from the tail. So effectively I pierced their ears and gave them a little haircut. But all in the name of serious science, of course.

 

 We had an incredibly successful darting expedition; capturing 21 animals in 11 days. Velo, Justin and the darting team brought back animals for us to process and collar every day but the very last! We managed to get 15 new radio-collars, 5 new dog collars, and recapture r Purple-Yellow to replace a dead radio collar. The dog-collars were used on juvenile individuals who were under 2 years of age and/or under 2.5kg in weight. Hopefully in future years they will be recaptured and given radio-collars to be added to the adult focal population. Seeing the Varecia (the animals I’ve been looking up at in the tree tops for 8 months) up close was a dream! I know I’m a scientist, but they are so very cute and fluffy.

 

 

I also spent one last day ‘out out’ in the forest, to make sure my assistants were all sorted and ready to take over data collection. I am confident they will do a great job, having picked things up very quickly. I partly went out to be there to check up on data collection and be there to answer any questions, but partly just as an excuse to spend one more day in the forest I have come to call my second home. However, after that it was time to pack up all my things, take down my tent, and head back to CVB and then onto Tana! Not before fitting in one last mini holiday of course…this is me.  Andrea, Aparna and myself took a day trip up to Andasibe to see the famous indri. Despite the miserable weather it was amazing to the see the indri so close and to hear them sing. Both a beautiful and quite eerie sound. All too soon it was back in the van and back to Tana to complete our inventory and get ready to head home. As I sit here in my hotel, waiting to head to the airport tomorrow, I am feeling both excited and sad. I’m so excited to see all my friends and family after such a long time away, yet so sad to be leaving this amazing place and so many new friends behind. The people, the landscapes, the wildlife – this truly is a place like no other. I look forward to hopefully coming back to do a lot more research here in the future. But now, onto the next chapter and visiting New York to process and test my plant samples in Dr Jessica Rothman’s nutritional ecology lab! 

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