At the Top of the Forest
By Kasey-Dee Gardner
After yesterday’s perfect hike, we decided to book another hike today. We’ve taken Diamondra’s recommendation (he had church obligations) and have hired Daulphin and his lemur scouter, Augustine.
Ranomafana is prone to cyclones, and a storm last February took down the main bridge in the park, closing the usual hiking route. Daulphin forewarns us that the alternate hike we’re planning poses many challenges because it is almost entirely uphill. But, thinking of myself as a long-distance runner, I wonder how hard can it be? I’ve survived a marathon and Dan has hiked throughout the world. This hike can’t be so bad.
I’ve never been so wrong! About an hour into the hike, Daulphin tells me he has only ever taken two other people on this hike. To say the vertical hike is treacherous is a serious understatement: it’s near impossible. A four-hour vertical climb with no relief proves harder than any race I’ve ever run. And because we’ve been climbing higher in the forest canopy, we’re not as protected against the hot African sun, or shielded from the mosquitoes. On top of that, fresh rain has caused the ground to spawn leeches, so every 20 minutes I’ve either been prying blood-filled leeches off my legs or stopping to catch my breath.
Daulphin and Augustine seem unfazed by all this, as do the elderly farmers who nimbly move up and down the hills, barefoot, carrying bundles of bananas.
Finally, after what seems like an never-ending climb, we reach a lookout point that gives us a spectacular view of the forest canopy. We share lunch of Koba (a mixture of banana, rice, and peanuts wrapped in banana leaves), Mofogasy (rice and sugar rolls), Cliff Bars and almonds.
In this area of the park, the lemurs aren’t as plentiful as yesterday, but it doesn’t take us long to find families of Black and White Ruffled Lemurs and Brown Lemurs. Brown Lemurs are one of the more curious lemur species. One even jumps right on Dan’s camera.
It’s hard to leave, but after a few hours it’s time to make our four-hour descent before sunset.
The fact that we’ve seen a lot of lemurs is a bit deceptive. We’ve been lucky. Most of Madagascar’s lemurs are threatened or endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Fifteen species have already been driven to extinction. Who knows how much longer the others will be around? Lemurs face a bleak future because of deforestation, hunting for bushmeat, and the exotic pet trade. I’m seeing with my own eyes. The son of a hotel owner in Mahambo owns a “pet” Bamboo Lemur. He says he bought it on the black market for 15,000 ariary or $7.When I start to explain to him the problems of selling and owning wild pets, he blows me off and tells me it’s better than leaving it to be eaten in the wild.
Overall, there’s seems to be a lack of education regarding the protection of lemurs. Plenty of organizations are already deeply ingrained in lemur protection. To support these organizations, please follow the links below.
Photos: Dan Plimpton