A distant view of the largely unexplored Marojejy massif.
Travel in Madagascar can be very unpredictable, and four years ago when I arranged to meet an archeologist at the Hotel Carrefour ("Crossroads") in Sambava, a northeast coast town, he was an entire day late. But Patricia Wright was already at the Carrefour, where we'd prearranged to meet, when I strode up its front steps yesterday afternoon. So was Jacinth O'Donnell, who'd also agreed to meet me there.
To top it off, I'd already run into Mireya Mayor and other members of Wright's team at the airport, at which they'd arrived by car from the capital just minutes before I stepped out of the terminal after my flight from Diego Suarez. They were looking for Wright, and I was able to lead them straight to her.
All in all, it was an astonishingly smooth and perfectly timed coming
together of a large scientific team. Its members had departed within the
past three days from the Ankarana in the north, Antananarivo in the center, and Ranomafana National Park in the south of Madagascar, as well as from the United Kingdom and the United States.
We're hoping our trouble-free assembly bodes well for our trip into Marojejy to search for the silky sifaka (see The Mission). A Malagasy guide who met me at the airport says it can take a week to find this extremely rare, ghost-white lemur. And sometimes the groups she leads up to Camp Two in the reserve, around which the sifakas are often seen and where our team will camp, never even lay eyes on the animal.
Wright says she will stay until she finds the lemur. She plans to conduct the first-ever study of the silky sifaka, including temporarily capturing individuals, also for the first time. This morning she left with the team for Marojejy; by now they should have reached Camp 2, which lies high in the unbroken rain forest that blankets the Marojejy massif. I will join them tomorrow after a three-hour drive to the reserve entrance and a several-hour traipse through the forest to the camp.
We're coming at an auspicious time for Marojejy. On June 4th, the
Malagasy government will inaugurate the reserve as Madagascar's sixth
national park. A day later a one-day environmental conference takes place in the nearby town of Andapa. With any luck, the Prime Minister himself may make an appearance.
Any success our team has can only bode well for the silky sifaka, which
specialists deem critically endangered. It's so rare and little seen that a recent Time Magazine feature on the 25 most endangered primates could offer only a drawing of the animal. (See the 1/17/00 issue.) Here's hoping we can bring you fresh photos of the silky sifaka in the coming days. Stay tuned.