Madagascar, Land of Lemurs, Lambas and Birds, October, 2004

The Author in the Jungle

The shy terrestrial bird is close. Our guide signals us to fold the umbrellas that protect us from the fat drops of moisture rolling off the rainforest canopy. He hoots again, challenging the bird to defend its territory. We crouch and peer into the lush underbrush watching for any telltale movement. The glossy leaves flick off the falling drops and we hope it is our bird, but are disappointed. The umbrella was better than my jacket in the high humidity, but now I am getting wet anyway. My feet are sloshing, but I am not as cold as I would be at home in Oregon. Sandra just picked another leech off her neck. The bird refuses to show itself and my legs are cramping. What am I doing here?

Researchers flock to Madagascar, hoping to discover another Rosy-periwinkle, the endemic plant found to cure certain forms of cancer, or another Bamboo Lemur, which thrives on cyanide laced bamboo shoots. Warnings of impending doom are increasing. Little is known about the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar and as fast as scientists discover a new species, another habitat is degraded.

Madagascar lemurs drew my interest years before I started birding. Recently, the appeal of birds plus lemurs became irresistible, but motives for my visit were mixed. Go now before there is nothing to see. Go now as a tourist to demonstrate that saving what remains could bring money to a desperately poor country. Only the future will tell which motive was the most prescient.


Photos are by the author and, as noted, Mark Smith, principal of Mark Smith Nature Tours and Barbara and Malcolm Burleigh, participants.