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  • Carly Batist

Notes from the field: May 2019

Salama! Hello! I’m Carly, a first-year PhD student in Andrea’s lab at Hunter College & the CUNY Graduate Center. I am originally from the a tiny town, Mattituck, on the North Fork (east end of Long Island). I got my B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell University and an M.S. in Primate Behavior at Central Washington University. My Master’s thesis was conducted at the Duke Lemur Center on lemur cognition and social learning.

I am now continuing with lemurs, and doing my dissertation work through Andrea’s Ranomafana Varecia project at Mangevo. I am studying black-and-white ruffed lemur social behavior, fission-fusion dynamics (their unique, fluid social system), and vocal communication. Saying they’re loud would be an understatement-here’s a link to give you an idea:

These choruses are contagious, so once one starts, the whole group goes off and it’s pretty deafening. But despite how conspicuous these calls are, we really have no idea why they do it or what information they’re conveying to each other. So naturally, I’m hauling 75lbs of acoustic equipment and batteries to a tropical rainforest (aka where technology usually goes to crash and burn….). But fear not! I am also armed with 4,000 packets of silica beads, which are a desiccant and absorb water. I put these inside the acoustic devices and in a “dry box” to keep humidity and rain out. We’ll see how it goes!

After a 36 hour journey, 17 of which were spent on a plane, I landed in Tana, the capital city of Madagascar. Because I have camping equipment and field gear for my 5-person field team on top of my acoustic equipment, I have 5 luggage bags. I can now say that I have successfully mastered the art of driving 2 luggage carts simultaneously, which I’m now considering putting on my CV. I got to my hotel at around 1am and was greeted by the only thing nirvana could be at the time: a bed that wasn’t an airport or plane seat! I finalized some paperwork with MICET, the wonderful organization who helps us the permits, visas, transportation, etc., and then we drove the 8 hours to CVB. I’m accompanied by a Malagasy graduate student, Mendrika, who will help me with data collection and has been a VITAL translator since picking Spanish over French in the 7th grade is now coming back to bite me.

I’m now at Centre ValBio, where Mendrika, myself, our research tech Francois, our local guide, and our cook are planning our first expedition to Mangevo. It’s a 5-6 hour hike from CVB to Mangevo, most of which is uphill, but I’m saving money on a gym membership, so it’s probably a win-win. Because this is a pilot study, and my first trip to Mangevo (and that I could trip over my shadow if possible), I anticipate a number of #fieldworkfails that I’ll update you on in my next blog post. Don’t worry, my physical therapist mom and nurse sister have given me a first aid kit that pretty much singly takes up a suitcase.

I’m excited to get into the forest and start studying these amazing, beautiful, and quite honestly, super weird lemurs! It will be a great break away from technology, politics and busy NYC life. I just made my first out-of-office message for email, which has made me feel somewhat official. Veloma (goodbye) for now, I’ll be back soon!

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