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The rains down in Madagascar

The last three months here in Madagascar have flown by in a whirlwind and I have spent the majority of my time out in the forest collecting tons of data and samples. We have completed four trips, six more sampling locations, and collected hundreds of fecal samples since my last update!

In late March we headed back to the Andringitra corridor south of Ranomafana to visit two sites not far from where Daniella is working for her PhD research. Because of the cyclone at the time, the train from Fianarantsoa was not running and we were forced to try and drive down to Tolongoina (one of the larger villages down in the corridor) to start our hike out to our research sites. We aimed to leave at dawn but due to a miscommunication we ended up leaving later than anticipated and because of the immense monsoon rains the roads were so muddy that the trip took a few hours longer than normal. We ended up arriving in Tolongoina several hours late and had to practically beg the porters waiting for us to still help us get to our research site in the forest of Ambodivanana, what should have been approximately 3 hours away. Given our late arrival several of the porters were drunk/ got drunk on our hike, which I was not aware of until we arrived to our camp site at about 10pm, several hours later than we should have. Suffice it to say I was not impressed by this development and we had to have a meeting with the village president to sort out the issue. Despite its rough beginning our trip to Ambodivanana was very successful and we even got to take a day trip down to the village to visit Daniella and have some cake and a dance party with the local kids.

Video: Dance party in Ambodivanana!

After Ambodivanana we headed to a site about 5km north near the village of Tatamaly. On the day we switched camps I sent half my team directly to Tatamaly while myself and my Malagasy student Joseane first headed in the other direction to Tolongoina to try and pick up some fresh food for the next 10 days before turning back around and heading to Tatamaly. Overall that day we ended up hiking over 45km in the rain to make sure we had some fresh food, which was a physical feat I don’t feel too guilty bragging about! Our time in Tatamaly was amazing since the site was swarming with ruffed lemurs and we had no problem getting bags full of samples. Despite this, my health in Tatamaly was not quite as great due to the rain and I developed two terrible skin infections as well as hives all over my upper body; its time like that when I am most thankful for antibiotics and Benadryl!

After our trips to Ambodivanana and Tatamaly we took a week off at CVB before repacking our stuff and heading back to the Andringitra corridor for our final expedition there. This time the train was up and running again so we were able to take this form of transportation on our way to the research site, which was definitely an enjoyable experience (the train from Fianarantsoa to the corridor goes downhill and always runs smoothly in that direction unlike on the return trip).

Video: Train ride from Fianarantsoa; overlooking the villages of the Andringitra corridor.

For this expedition we first headed to a site near the village of Madiorano where, surprisingly, we were unable to find many ruffed lemurs (a new experience in the corridor which, up until then, seemed to be teeming with ruffed lemurs). Nevertheless, I am thankful we were at least able to find four individuals in Madiorano so we did not walk away empty-handed. While in Madiorano it rained for days on end, and since our campsite was fairly high in altitude (~1100m) we were all freezing for the 10 days we worked there and thankful when we were able to descend from the forest and change campsites. The final location we worked at in the corridor was a site near the village of Malazamasina and was the southernmost location that we visited for my project; overall with this site my study spans a distance of approximately 40km which I am very excited about! At Malazamasina we were able to find several groups of ruffed lemurs and this was definitely a positive ending to our time in the corridor. Furthermore, we were able to get the cake recipe from Daniella and while in the forest we made cake and pancakes on our day-off, which I think my team would say was the highlight of the trip!

Photo: Look out point heading out of the forest of Malazamasina.

Our trip to Malazamasina was our last expedition to a new sampling site and constituted the fifteenth sampling location for my project, including the locations I visited during my M.A. research in 2015. At the end of May we took a trip back to one of the locations I sampled in 2015, Vatoharanana, which is located within Ranomafana National Park approximately a 1.5 hour hike from Centre ValBio. We returned to this site because I needed to collect from a few groups that were not thoroughly sampled enough in 2015. The trip was probably the most peaceful expedition I have taken during my last several months in Madagascar, since it was a close site that is well established and, therefore, I did not have to do much prepping for transportation, food, porters, etc. Additionally, the weather was beautiful for the full 10 days which was a nice change of pace compared to the previous two months of rain. Overall, the trip was definitely rejuvenating and exactly what I needed after all the work and challenges faced with our many expeditions to the Andringitra corridor. In Vatoharanana we were able to find about 25 different ruffed lemur individuals and this sampling success will definitely improve my analyses for that section of the park. For our final expedition at the beginning of this month we headed back to Mangevo to do a bit of re-sampling like in Vatoharanana. Mangevo is a site located in the southeastern region of Ranomafana National Park and is a pristine section of the park; my advisor, Dr. Andrea Baden, established the campsite in this area for her dissertation research and continues to work in the area. The campsite is over 20km from the nearest road and often takes over 6 hours to hike even when the weather is nice and you are in good shape. During our hike out to Mangevo we encountered no issues as we were still experiencing the streak of sunny and clear weather that blessed our expedition to Vatoharanana. This streak ended the night we arrived in Mangevo and we preceded to experience non-stop (and I do mean non-stop day and night) rain for the entire week we were in the forest.

Video: Constant rain in Mangevo.

Despite the immense rain we were still able to re-sample from most of the ruffed lemur groups that we aimed to find. During this expedition I was also happy to have the company of two other researchers, Mai and Mariah, whom were also gathering data and samples at the same time in Mangevo and were able to keep each other sane through all the rain. My return trip was not quite as easy as that getting to the forest since all the rain flooded the many rice paddies we had to cross on the hike and at one point I had to take off both my boots and pants in order to cross a flooded channel!

Photo (credit Mai F.): (left to right) Mariah, Mai, and I chilling in Mangevo.

With my return from my Mangevo expedition I am officially done with sampling and fieldwork for this portion of my dissertation research and I am so excited to have met this milestone! I am now working at CVB until the end of the month putting together export permits and writing several final reports. To commemorate the end of this section of my research I am taking a little vacation to Nosy Be, a beautiful island in northwestern Madagascar, in the beginning of July to get some warmth and sun after all the cold and rain of this austral winter in Ranomafana. Of course I will be working on a few manuscripts, presentations, and prepping to get back into classes in NYC, but I will also be doing some fun stuff like catching a tan, scuba diving, and snorkeling; let’s just say I am hoping for a productive vay-cay ;).

As my time in Madagascar starts to draw closer to the end I am excited to announce that I will staying for one extra month until the end of August (as opposed to leaving at the end of July as originally planned) to assist my advisor, Dr. Andrea Baden, with darting and collaring her study animals in Mangevo and getting her project fully up and running again in the site! Finally, two other big announcements are first, my research was recently featured with Andrea on CUNY TV and you can check out our spot here (we come in at ~6:30):

Video: CUNY TV - Study with the Best: CUNY and the Animal Kingdom

Second, I recently started an Instagram account for a behind-the-scenes look at some of my work and adventures in research so check me out at Varijatsy_and_Vary (or click on the Insta symbol at the bottom of any page of my website)!

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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