Madagascar Memories: Dr. Keriann McGoogan

Madagascar Memories

Planet Madagascar is excited to present our new blog series, “Madagascar Memories.” We have asked people from all walks of life who have visited Madagascar to share with us some of their most memorable Madagascar moments and to remind us why it is so important to work to conserve the biodiversity to help the people living in this amazing country.

This week’s installment comes from Dr. Keriann McGoogan who completed her PhD studying edge effects on the behaviour and ecology of an endangered lemur species in NW Madagascar.

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Lunching with Lemurs by Keriann McGoogan

In 2008, I embarked on what would be a 14-month trip to Madagascar to conduct my PhD research. I was there to study the impact of habitat loss, and particularly of edges (areas between forest and clearings) on an endangered lemur species in Ankarafantsika National Park in Northwest of Madagascar. Some of you may recognize my study species as “Zooboomafoo” (go ahead…google that name), but its real name is Coquerel’s sifaka, or Propithecus coquereli if you want to get scientific.

The fourteen months that I spent in Madagascar were some of the best in my life and there are so many highlights that I could share. But, if I had to choose one particular memory, it would be the day I “lunched with the lemurs.”

It was a hot, humid day in September and I was trekking through the sandy soils of the dry forest, following one of my study groups. Three times a week, I would wake up before dawn, locate a group of sifakas in the forest with the help of handheld radios and my research team, and follow the group until dusk. It had been a particularly active day for this group of seven (three females, two males, and two juveniles)—they had engaged in a lot of feeding and moving from tree to tree early in the day. By about 11am, though, the group settled down to rest and digest in a particularly dense area of forest, far removed from the trail system.

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All had quieted down in the forest except for the sound of the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the forest canopy. I continued to watch the lemur group in their state of inactivity. As I stood there, my stomach grumbled. It was nearing lunch hour, so I pulled out my sandwich and took a seat in a shady area on the forest floor, the group about 2-meters away in a tree, still in full view. The sun was beating down—it was hot.

As I sat munching on my lunch, the group members began to move lower in the tree, presumably to take advantage of some of the shade lower down.

Slowly, slowly, the sifakas moved lower.

And lower still.

Soon, three of the adults were sitting directly on the forest floor, arms and legs wrapped loosely around a tree trunk, a mere 2-meters away from where I was sitting! Chills went down my spine and I laughed out loud. There I was in Madagascar, having a picnic with a group of sifakas. Unforgettable.