Notes from the field: January 2019
Hi Everyone and Happy New Year.
I have been waking up to noise every morning in the big city; but black-and-white ruffed lemurs barking is my alarm clock here in the forest. The break is over, and I am back in the jungle –the quiet and peaceful place that I love. Wearing a hat, rain gear, rubber boots and carrying a back pack full of gear, I am ready to hike to follow the lemurs. My necklace is a pair of binoculars and a rain pen wrapped with flagging tape; my bracelet is my field watch. The weather at present consists of successions of heavy wind, rain, and fog; thunder and lightning roaring and lighting up the sky. It is raining cats and dogs and there is a cold breeze every now and then that the sun appears. One day, we were held up under the roof of our camp kitchen, waiting for the fog to go away, but it stayed the whole day unchanged. This month is cyclone season in Madagascar. Our field site was not concerned despite two cyclones passing through the country during our expedition, but still, we endured its consequences. Wind blew heavily and tore down dead trees, sounding like explosions, chilling me during the follow, since I am a scaredy-cat!
During our first follow, we were tracking the lemurs in the area they used to be in (in December), but they aren't there anymore. Most of the subgroups have expanded their territories and moved to new places in order to feed on newly available trees. In addition to this new territory, their bark is new to me as well. During the previous few months, the group would bark all together following a couple individual chatters, sometimes with head bobbing or circling. The barking this time occurred more frequently, unlike before and not necessarily started by two individuals chattering. I often jumped and laughed myself since they are loud and always come at unexpected times!
You don’t need a comedian to make you laugh sometimes, as the black-and-white ruffed lemurs are very funny. One day our focal, Radio Red-Yellow, was hiding by himself under the leaves of a short tree, when Purple group was passing above without even noticing him. He rested peacefully for almost one hour and when he woke up, he barked loudly as if to tell the Purple group that he was there and that they are blind. They barked back and chased him all the way up to the top of the mountain. They had cornered him and unfortunately for poor Red-Yellow, he was bitten by the female in the group!
This month I have also performed some preliminary data analysis for my own project on Varecia parasitology. I am studying their intestinal parasites by observing the eggs through a microscope and classifying them by shape, color and size. Using both sedimentation and floatation methods, two species of parasites have been identified and some nematodes are being determined; one of the identified species is suspected to be specific to Varecia. However, this data remains preliminary as only genetic testing can confirm this assumption. In collaboration with my advisor Dr. Andrea Baden and the infectious disease lab at Auburn University, our samples will be exported and sequenced soon. Exciting news for Varecia research! More to come, stay tuned.
Good vibes from the jungle,