Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Lemur One Night Stand - and Heartbreak



From Beza Mafaly we were heading to an almost unpronounceable saline lake where flamingos hang out. Rather than camp again in the hot tents, my guide decided we should stay at a hotel. The only one nearby was the Hotel D'Ambola, which was pricey for Madagascar but had a lovely setting on the beach overlooking gorgeous blue waters. I was really starving and the chef took vegetables we'd brought and made a wonderful vegetable soup, plus had spaghetti for lunch. In the evening we watched humpback whales playing from our chairs on the deck.

This hotel also offered me the high point and the low point of the trip emotionally.

There were four ringtailed lemurs on the property. Three of them were bonded in a group but the fourth was a young female, maybe 9 months to a year old. She was the "newest arrival" and was being picked on by the others. The chef gave them some cassavas and carrot tops but the three lemurs got them, leaving the little girl out. Some of the lemurs jumped on my head or climbed onto my shoulders. I knew they were "wild" and I shouldn't touch them, but I sure didn't mind letting them touch me! Everyone else shooed them off.

The lemurs also came to visit me in my room, and as there were no window screens, they did play throughout the room and sit on the windowsill. Throughout the afternoon I couldn't really tell the lemurs apart. That evening though, two of them were begging at dinner, and then one went off to bed with the others and the little girl stayed. She was begging for food. Since I knew the cook fed them sometimes, I knew it wouldn't further disrupt their already non-natural life if I fed the small hungry one. I gave her some bread and then some bread soaked in veggie soup. She loved that and wanted more, expressing herself with excited chirps and climbing up onto my lap. I knew she shouldn't be allowed on the table so I lifted her down. I hadn't thought about it - it was a perfect setup for her to bite me, but she didn't. So I grew more bold and I stroked her as she ate spoonfuls of soup I held out for her. She quickly learned that she was not to get on the table but could sit on my lap.

After I fed her her fill of soup (as the entire hotel staff looked at me like I was a total insane idiot) I thought she would leave. To my surprise, she climbed me, and felt my face all over with her tiny fingers. She stroked my eyes and nose and then kissed my lips. She then groomed me by licking my chin and neck. Her tongue was a bit rough like a cat's. Then she snuggled down in my arms on the table, gave out a big sigh, and took a nap. I held her, stroking her chin, her ears, rubbing her all over. She purred like a happy kitten. My guide took a photo of her curled in my arms, above.

After an hour or so, I needed to get to bed. I stood up and she awoke. I thought for sure she would leave, but she rode my shoulder as I went into my room. The windows were open so she could leave anytime. But instead, she curled up on me and tucked her chin under mine. She curled her little ringed tail around herself, and went to sleep. All night long we stayed together. She always lay on me or curled against me. She never got up to go to the bathroom. She didn't mind the mosquito net. She awoke when I did, licked me a little, and went back to sleep. She was obviously lonely and happy to be with someone warm and kind.

I knew it was a one night stand, and there was no way I could take her with me. But I also knew we could give each other a night of comfort. She was lonely and so was I. I missed my cats, and having this lemur curled on my shoulder I felt like I was cheating on my cat, Lizzie, who usually occupies that position. It was bizarre to spend a night with an endangered species. I knew I would fall in love with her and that in the morning I would hate to leave her.

In fact, she loved having breakfast with me, and supervising me pack my bag and brush my teeth. She kept hugging me. The last photo I took of her she was on a post next to me, and right after I took the picture she jumped onto me and began to play with the camera. The last photo of her is above. When I had to leave, hey had to chase her off my back, which I hated. They didn't speak English but I kept trying to tell them to be nice to her. There was no way I could take her with me, but no one there was going to care for her, and if I gave them money to do so I knew it would not be used that way. I couldn't look back at her but I heard her cries. And, I cried too, for the next day and a half. I looked out the window at the hot, dusty, barren land and thought about how cruel it was that this lovely little lemur would not be accepted by the other lemurs or by man. How did she get there? Was she purchased as an illegal pet, as my guide suggested? If so, why didn't anyone care - any wildlife group or the government? Why was he allowed to buy lemurs? The Malagasy said the rich could break all the rules.

But why buy a lemur and not love her? This lemur was alone in the world and so desperate for kindness that when she found some, her whole body expressed her happiness and relief. I wanted so much to get her safely to a zoo in the U.S., or even better, to bring her home with me where I knew she would have a proper diet and enough affection. I was struck by her incredibly gentle human hands and her very cat-like sounds and tongue.

I love all creatures and give away my heart too easily. I had it broken because I had to leave her. I wonder if she will make it or if she is already starved or chased off. I couldn't believe that none of the maids at the hotel had a bit of compassion for the lemurs. How anyone can turn away a lonely little lemur I will never know.

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