July 7, 2012 — Jennifer Moore is a graduate student at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment and tour guide at the Duke Lemur Center. She sent us this report on her research in Madagascar’s Marojejy National Park with DLC post-doc Dr. Erik Patel.

June 25, 2012

I have been in Madagascar for over a month now, but have spent the last 5 weeks living in the rainforest of Marojejy National Park. Here is a little about my adventure, including some pictures I’ve taken along the way.

Week 1

I arrived in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, finally at 5 am on May 21st after 19 hours on a plane and about 12 hours or so more sitting in various airports, so I was exhausted. However, with only two days in Tana before flying to Sambava to meet Dr. Erik Patel there was plenty to do. As a researcher, I had to obtain a permit and park entrance tickets from MICET (Madagascar Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments) to work in Marojejy National Park. I obtained all of these, and met with Lanto (the Logistics Coordinator of the SAVA Conservation Project for the Duke Lemur Center), as well as Manitra (a graduate student from the University of Antananarivo, who would be working with me for the summer) to discuss logistics. Then on the 23rd of May, Manitra and I flew to Sambava and met Erik. The first day in Sambava was a whirlwind of activity getting everything together, driving 100km to Andapa, meeting with the head of the Madagascar National Parks, as well as other park guides and friends of Erik’s along the way, and then the next day the real adventure began…

On May 24thwe drove to Manantenina to meet our park guide (Desiré), park agent (Eduoard), cook (Primo). The three of them plus Manitra and I lived together in our camp for the 5 weeks we spent in the park. Lastly, we had to hire some porters. We had to hire 60 porters to carry all of the equipment and food we had into the park!The next morning we took off early (it was still raining!) hiking to our camp (Camp Manjavonjavona which means “foggy camp”), our home for the next 5 weeks. We settled into camp, trained the next day, and then spent the next two days walking each of our 2km transects to assess habitat and any disturbance we found (not much as this site thankfully!). These last two days were probably the most miserable, it rained so much that even through my rain coat, rain pants, and boots I was drenched. But everyone told me the first week would be the worst and then it’ll get better… and better it did get. So the porters left with all of our belongings and we prepared to head out, and of course at this point in time the rain started. And little did I know, but the rain was not going to stop. It was 2 km to the entrance of the park from where we left the car, and then another 4.3 km to the first tourist camp, where we were spending the night. This camp has bungalows, so it was the last night that we were able to sleep in a bed.

Week 2

Week 2 started off with sunshine! I’ve never enjoyed 4 days of sunshine as much as this! And I saw my first glimpse of lemurs. Throughout the week I saw white-fronted brown lemurs, red-bellied lemurs, northern bamboo lemurs, and a greater dwarf lemur. The dwarf lemur had come to visit camp! Since we work in pairs the other group also saw Seal’s sportive lemurs, Mittermeier’s mouse lemurs, and the silky sifaka. I’m jealous that I missed seeing this elusive silky sifaka but I’m determined to find one before I leave.

Week 3 & 4

Now that it is week 3, life is pretty routine around here. Every day we either walk two replicates of one of the 2km transects, set out for a nocturnal survey, or the guides set off to do an off-transect survey. Hiking around here is very difficult in this mountainous rainforest so it is nice to have some days off to just sit around. The evenings we spend talking, playing dominos, or playing cards, and I’ve even learned a couple of words in Malagasy. I can say hello, how are you, I’m fine, I’m hungry, good-bye, I’m full, I need, and water. Very useful words I know…

Anyways since it is week 3 it seems about time to share what I’ve learned about living in the rainforest, specifically Marojejy National Park.

  1. Marojejy is a rainforest, which means it rains pretty much all day, every day. Make the most of the sunny days because they are very rare.
  2. Since it is such a rainy place, it is home to more leeches than I have ever seen in my life! In fact, I think I got more leech bites in one day than I’ve ever seen in my life before coming here.
  3. Again since this place is so moist nothing ever dries. You can hang clothes up to dry all you want but they won’t dry. So you have to get used to everything being just a little bit damp all of the time.
  4. Having a good cook could arguably be the most important aspect of camp (as well as having a good guide so you don’t fall down the mountain). My cook knew how to make crepes filled with chocolate, French fries, pasta, couscous, and other delicious things instead of us eating rice and beans every day!!
  5. And finally, and most importantly, Marojejy is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The hiking is very difficult up and down the sides of the mountain, across rivers, through patches of bamboo, and over many rocks, but just look around on one sunny or only lightly raining days and it is stunning. Not to mention there are lots of lemurs that live within the forest too!

Week 5

The last week was a rainy one. It rained non-stop for days on end, and it didn’t just rain, it poured! But finally on the day we were packing up our camp to leave the park the sun came out and we had a dry day to put everything away. And after 33 days we left the park.

Now I am back in Sambava and we are busy planning food, equipment, vehicles and guides for our next campsite. We will be leaving the town on July 1st to head back out into a different area of the park. Hopefully there will be many more lemurs to see, a little less rain, and a whole new adventure to experience!