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The Wilds of Madagascar

Sound of the Day A white-fronted brown lemur high in Marojejy National Park.

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Dispatches
June 1, 2000
Three Hours with the Silkies



Marojejy team Pat Wright's team in a celebratory mood after finding its second group of silky sifaka.
Not knowing whether we would be lucky enough to see the silky sifaka again today, we set off early this morning to search for them. The rainforest, having lived up to its name, was still wet from the heavy rainfall last night. The terrain was muddy, and nature's "staircase," comprised of moss-covered roots, made for a very slippery journey. At first it seemed as if the forest was still asleep, and the only sounds we heard were those of raindrops falling on our raincoats and what our local guides call the "barking crab," which may in fact be a frog.

Despite our best attempts to walk slowly and quietly, trying not to scare off the sifaka, we suddenly heard some lemurs directly over our heads. By the loud grunting sound they were making, we knew it was not the silky sifaka, but a group of seven white-faced brown lemurs. We got out our notebooks, noted what we'd seen, and continued our search. Shortly after, we came upon another group. Once again, they were not the sifaka, but rather the grey gentle bamboo lemur. The good news was that this particular species of lemur seems to enjoy the company of the silky sifaka, and they are often seen traveling together. Our guide whispered over our shoulders, "Maybe they are with the silky sifaka." We all looked and hoped, but once again, they were not.

One of our goals for this study is to conduct a census in order to assess the number and kinds of lemurs that are in Marojejy National Park (which will be inaugurated on June 4th). To do this, we set up transects along the existing trails. Every 25 meters (82.5 feet), we post a small, bright-orange flag denoting how far we have walked from base camp. This helps identify exactly where we are when we find the animals and allows us to make reference to places where we have seen them. Once we have established transects, we walk quietly and stop every 50 feet to look up and around in the trees.

Marojejy team A silky sifaka takes a siesta this afternoon after eating a lunch of young leaves.

We hiked up our two-kilometer-long transect (which is about a mile and a quarter long), and then turned back, because we had reached the top of the mountain, and the trees had become shrubs. As we descended to camp, we became quite discouraged. We had climbed (and slipped) all day and had not seen or heard the sifaka, and by this point only about 1,000 feet stood between us and our tents. Just then we looked up at what resembled more a soft cloud than a primate. There were our angels, the silky sifaka! What surprised us most is that they seemed to be just as curious about us as we were about them. They came down the trees and sat within five feet of us, which is unusually close. We were elated. I had every piece of camera equipment out, and my flash went off constantly. They appeared to be more than happy to pose for my camera.

Over a half hour had gone by before we realized that they were not running away as they had done previously. Hour after hour they sat, dined on some of their favorite leaves (the young ones), and groomed one another, all the while paying no attention to us. At one point, they even hung suspended upside down by their hind feet and twined together in play. More than three hours later, they suddenly seemed to have had enough of their new-found friends and continued on their way to the sleeping tree where they would rest for the night. It was there that we left them all snuggled up to one another. We will be there early tomorrow morning, waiting for them to awake and continue their leisurely lives.

Mireya Mayor is co-principal investigator with Pat Wright of this silky sifaka study at Marojejy National Park.


Dispatches
Forest of Hope (June 7, 2000)
A Great Day for Silkies (June 4, 2000)
Camp Life Unveiled (June 3, 2000)
Three Hours with the Silkies (June 1, 2000)
Angels of Marojejy (May 31, 2000)
Wildlife (May 30, 2000)
Into the Marojejy Massif (May 28, 2000)
Croc Cave (May 26, 2000)
Fossa! (May 25, 2000)
Bat Cave (May 24, 2000)
Update: English Camp (May 23, 2000)
Update: Sunken Forest (May 21, 2000)
Update: Night Walk (May 20, 2000)
Update: 70 Feet Up (May 19, 2000)
Update: Tropical Downpour (May 18, 2000)


Photos: (1) Jacinth O'Donnell; (2) Mireya Mayor.

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