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When life gives you lemurs...

Photo: A black-and-white lemur in Talatakely enjoying a snack.

I am now halfway through my Fulbright fellowship in Madagascar, and it is definitely time for another update! Over the last three months (I can't believe it's been that long since my last post) so many exciting, productive, and even a few unpleasant things have happened both in my personal life and in my research so I will do my best to give a brief recap of all the major events.

Following our trip to Miaranony, we had a three week vacation for the holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years) and some much need rest. I sent my holidays in Ranomafana with many of the other vazahas (what the Malagasy call foreigners) that were around at the time. We took the opportunity to cook and bake a lot of delicious foods that we were craving from our long absence from the States. Our meal included brisket, banana bread, and mulled wine, while for breakfast the next day we baked homemade bagels (my personal favorite). On Christmas/ the second day of Hanukkah we made sure to complete at least one of everyone's holiday traditions, mine being rocking out to NSYNC's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" (check it out here if you feel the need to be transported into the holiday season, Additionally, we managed to watch all three Chronicles of Narnia movies, a feat which I know my little sister would be proud of. New Years Eve was very low-key, and consisted of watching a few movies as well as waking up before 8am to watch the ball drop in NYC.

Photos: Our Christmas tree with homemade snowflake ornaments (top) and our 8am viewing of the ball drop in NYC (bottom).

Following our holiday vacation my team and I reconvened to start working again and our first location to visit was Mangevo (my advisor Dr. Andrea Baden's main research site). At Mangevo we did some reconnaissance work to prepare for future research at the site as well as collection some botanical information. The trip was uneventful overall until I was stung by a scorpion after I accidentally sat on it (believe me I won't make that mistake again!). What ensued after being stung was a day filled with excruciating pain (think having a knife that is on fire dug into your skin), but luckily scorpions in Madagascar are not deadly and I made it through the ordeal relatively unscathed.

Following our trip to Mangevo we headed back to the Andringitra Corridor south of Ranomafana National Park (near where we had our first reconnaissance expedition with Daniella Rabino) to collect some fecal samples in the forest. To get down to the corridor we had to take the train since the road we originally drove in on was inaccessible in January due to the rains. The ride on the train down to the research site was stunning and a truly unique experience. The train and tracks are the original from when the French still held Madagascar as a colony, albeit there have definitely been a lot of repairs to both. The trip down took us past gorgeous high altitude rock formations, vast rice paddies, and through the rainforest. The location we sampled from was near a village called Mandiandry and the hike into the forest was one of the steepest I have experienced since all of the forest at lower altitudes had been cleared away in this area. We were fortunate in our sampling efforts and collected from at least 20 or 25 more animals, although the process was extremely challenging as there were almost no trails in the forest, it was treacherously steep, and there were many gaps in the undergrowth while hiking. After almost two weeks on site we hiked out to take the train back home, but unfortunately were met with immense delays and ended up waiting over 15 hours for the train to finally arrive at midnight. We spent an uncomfortable night crammed onto the train with many other passengers, but finally made it back to the research station around lunch time.

Photo: Our train down to the Andringitra Corridor.

Photos: Our train stop as we headed to Mandiandry (left) and waiting 15+ hours for our train out of the site (right; featuring Pierre).

Photo: My sister Ali and I at the wedding (below).

Shortly after our trip to Mandiandry it was time for me to travel back to the USA to see my older sister get married! It was a long journey back, consisting of a 10 hour car ride to the capital, a 30 hour trip to NYC, and then another flight to Michigan. After literally days of travel I was finally able to make it home to see my family and friends and join in on a beautiful ceremony for my sister Haley and her now husband Ryan. After being away for so long (the last time I was able to make it home was in August) it was really amazing and comforting to be able to spend some time with family and visit some of my friends. It is in those moments that I realize how hard it truly is to be away, but I love what I do and I am fortunate enough to have a family that is very supportive of that. Additionally while I was home I was finally able to see a doctor about some persistent stomach issues I was having (yes the very same ones I wrote about so many months ago). The doctor I saw was extremely thorough and it seems like things are back to normal (or as normal as they can be), for which I am very grateful.

Photo: The beautiful bride Haley and her husband Ryan.

After the wonderful craziness of the wedding and visiting my family and friends I returned to Madagascar just in time to experience my first cyclone. Cyclone Enawo was the equivalent of a category-4 hurricane and caused immense damage in northern Madagascar, a situation in which many people are displaced and still looking for relief (if you want to help out here are some good links: Catholic Relief Services and Conservation through Poverty Alleviation Int). Fortunately where I was staying (in the capital of Antananarivo) was not hit too hard by the cyclone and we mostly just experienced intense rains and were spared the extreme winds. I was also lucky enough to be in a very secure location as I was staying in the home of another Fulbright recipient (a Scholar, Linda, whom is teaching at the public university in the capital) and therefore had strong walls, good food, and great company.

Photo: News report on Cyclone Enawo.

A few days after the cyclone (enough time to let some of the flooding recede and the road to clear) I headed back to Ranomafana with my new student Joseane (Arline is now out collecting her own dissertation data! Go Arline and good luck!). My return to the Centre ValBio research station was met with an extremely warm welcome from the employees there. It is those moment and the amazing staff at CVB that really makes this place feel like home, helps me to not to feel homesick, and makes me want to keep coming back. We only spent the weekend at the station before heading back out into the field to track down some more ruffed lemurs. Our first trip upon my return was to head back to the northern parcel of the national park (although not quite as far north as Miaranony) to track down some ruffed lemurs that local residents had reported hearing from the village of Ambodiaviavy. The trip was our wettest thus far as the rains came hard and never seemed to let up, but we were fortunate in being able to find two ruffed lemurs! This is particularly exciting since no one has ever sampled from ruffed lemurs in the north of the park so this data will be extremely valuable for my study. Additionally, we saw several other lemur species there that I was able to snap a few pictures of.

Photos: A red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufifrons; top) and a red-bellied lemur (Eulemur rubriventer; bottom) in Ambodiaviavy.

This week we are working on sampling a few secondary forest sites (Sakaroa and Talatakely) near the research station. Thus far we have found two individuals in Sakaroa, which is a fairly new area for the ruffed lemurs to be found and may indicate that the forest has regenerated enough to support some animals despite logging that occurred a few decades ago. Additionally, this morning we just found four more ruffed lemurs at Talatakely, as well as some golden bamboo lemurs. Next Monday we head back to the Andringitra Corridor to samples from two more sites (Amdodivanana and Tatamaly), one that is very near to where Daniella is conducting her dissertation research. This time we are having to drive there since the train has not been running since the cyclone hit earlier this month, which I am definitely not complaining about after our less-than-pleasant experience of waiting 15 hours for it to arrive on our last trip. Wish us luck in collecting lots of samples!

Photo: A group of golden bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur aureus).

Disclaimer: The views and information presented in this post are my own and do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

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