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  • Carly Batist

Rainforest jungle >> concrete jungle

I’m now back in NYC, and I can’t believe my field season is over already; it feels like I just got my first leech bite days ago. (One thing I definitely will NOT be missing during the academic year…)

The last expedition turned out to be rather upsetting as we had two lemurs die from fossa predation within the span of a week. The fossa is the ruffed lemurs’ primary predator, and though it looks like a weird combination between a cat and a dog, it is actually a member of the mongoose family. One of those individuals, radio-purple, was the star of my last blog post as he was the male in the lemur love triangle I mentioned. There is some comfort in knowing that these were natural deaths rather than human-inflicted (e.g., hunting, illegal pet trade) and that Mangevo is maintaining a healthy predator population (a sign of a productive and balanced food web). But, it still just sucks. My team had actually followed radio-purple 2 days prior to his death.

However, we can still learn from these deaths; predation is very rarely documented and almost impossible to study in primates but my passive acoustic recorders have been running 24/7 and may have captured the sounds of the attacks. This could give us valuable data on the timing and location of the attacks, what calls were made by the fossa and the victim, whether other group-members were close and/or vocalizing, etc. So, radio-purple will have a left a bit of a legacy, which I know sounds gloriously cliché but it’s probably a nice switch-up for you from my otherwise very sarcastic blog posts.

In much happier news, on my very last day of data collection on this last expedition, I got to see play behavior from a brother-sister pair of sub-adults (see video and prepare to have your day made). You can tell that it’s play because the lemurs aren’t using the “chatter” vocalization used during aggressive interactions (see sound bite below) and they’re using what’s commonly called the “primate play face”-mouths open but lips pulled over the teeth so as not to actually bite their partner.

That night being my last night in Mangevo, we had a crepe party AND S’mores (shout-out to Ford for bringing marshmallows from Tana) which was amazing. At the end of the night Ford very foolishly challenged me to finish the rest of the bag of marshmallows which naturally, because my body had not had processed sugar in 3 months, I did in 5 minutes much to the despair, I’m sure, of my pancreas. There was a sad round of goodbyes and see-you-next-year’s, and then the next day I hiked back to CVB for the last time this year. In classic Carly fashion I of course had to get one final absolutely magnificent wipe-out in, which happened with one wrong step in a rice paddy that had me waist deep in mud on one leg, and banging my knee against a tree stump on the other. My research tech Francois graciously dug me out of the mud and waited for me as I hobbled the rest of the way with a very bruised knee that has now turned every color the human eye can physically see (sorry Mom).

This has been an absolutely incredible field season that no language has enough positive adjectives to sufficiently describe. I now head back to NYC to begin going through all of my recordings beginning analysis on the 12 different ruffed lemur vocalizations. I’m interested in seeing if any of the calls are individually-identifiable, or differ based on sex or age of the animal. I’ll also be looking at the behaviors, subgroup changes, and activity states right before and right after specific types of calls to try and see what the function of the call is (i.e., what are they “saying” and why?). Stay tuned for more recordings and preliminary results this fall! Data cleaning and analysis will keep me plenty busy, but I’ll also be writing grant proposals to fund my trip back to Mangevo (hopefully!) next summer. I will miss my team, the campsite, being off-the-grid, being constantly surrounded by awe-inspiring biodiversity, and of course, these fluffy tree-panda cotton balls that I’m lucky enough to study. Shoutout to my favorite individual, radio-red, for being a strong-independent-female-lemur who does her own thing, doesn’t need anything from anybody and will wreck you if you get close to her feeding tree-you keep being a queen.

P.S.-Things I will NOT miss:

1. Those freaking inch-long vampire creatures who have somehow beat the human species at evolution without bones, a brain, or organ systems.

2. 6-day-long rainstorms that cause me to resort to singing nursery rhymes about the sun and ultimately earning me the camp nickname “Mademosielle Masoandra” (Mrs Sun).

3. That one never-ending, always-slippery, clay-mud, practically-vertical hill on the hike back from Mangevo to CVB that absolutely killed me every time.

4. Tree roots that magically appear out of nowhere to trip you so you land on yet another tree root and begin a vicious cycle of impersonating a deformed slinky going down a circular staircase that has every other step missing.

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