Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ringtails of Beza Mafaly

There are several troops of ring-tailed lemurs at Beza Mafaly also. Two of the groups I saw had collars for research and two did not. One of the troops came through the campsite often, raiding the kitchen trash heap. Pictured above is a lemur sitting on the campsite sign and one with a small baby hanging on walking through the camp.

I was shocked by the fact that although this is a research station, and these lemurs in camp are supposed to be research subjects, they are certainly not living natural lives. They have abandoned scavenging in the trees for scavenging in the trash, and you would think that scientists would not want to upset the balance and would take care not to feed the lemurs or alter their behavior. While lemurs are supposed to be vegetarians, I found them gnawing on chicken bones. When I expressed surprise, the local Malagasy told me that ring-tails eat "anything" once domesticated and cited several examples of them being given beer by people to make them drunk. A revolting thought on many levels.

This campsite was filthy, as I have mentioned, and there were several trash heaps of partially burned trash, as well as a lot of debris - plastic, paper, etc. Certainly not the environment I would want to foster for protecting endangered lemurs. There was a group of lemurs that had several babies. I counted at least four. The lemurs came within two feet of me and were not afraid. They were shooed out of camp now and then half-heartedly by hand waving or things being tossed at them, but of course they returned, since there was always trash of some type not properly disposed of.

There were two American student researchers here researching sifaka. However, the entire time I was there one of them never stopped talking. She talked on the satellite phone, she talked to everyone in camp, she talked to her fellow researcher, she talked all through every meal. The inane conversation focused on teenage type subjects, rumors, people back home, what so and so is doing, general gossip. Certainly, she didn't appear to be getting any research done. She told me she loved being there because the people were "so nice." I thought, the same people who can't be bothered to clean up or properly dispose of trash? The same people who mercilessly beat their burdened zebu? The same people who keep cutting down "protected" trees in "protected forests"? The same people who throw things at the lemurs to make them move so tourists can see them better, or who make annoying, inane sounds all the time to get the lemurs to look at them? The same people who bring radios to the middle of the forest and blare them into the wee hours of the morning, with no consideration for the wildlife, or the humans nearby? Clearly, we have different definitions of "nice people." I couldn't have survived in that research station more than a week without gagging that woman into silence.

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