Posts Tagged With: island


Lemur Love – Madagascar’s Unique Monkey-types

In honour of #WorldLemurDay, I decided to skip posts about anything in the area where I actually live and instead focus on a trip I took to Madagascar in January.

Madagascar is as cool as its name suggests. It is wild, it is rugged, it is magical, it is bizarre. A true land of extremes, it features a slew of inhabitants that seem to exist in a vacuum, and, in many ways, really do. Most of the wildlife on the island is endemic, meaning it occurs nowhere else in the world. And, as is the case in so many places worldwide, those species are disappearing. Quickly.

Aside from a short takeover stint from France, which decided to colonize the country in the 1900s, the Malagasy, their ways, traditions, and language have remained firmly footed and constant throughout the country and the centuries. And both the Western and the Malagasy cultures have often been at odds with the local wildlife.

Home to both the world’s largest and smallest chameleons, the looks-like-a-mongoose-on-steroids carnivorous fossa, and the ONLY place lemurs occur naturally, Madagascar is a stunning land of contrasts, rife with conflict and challenges. In fact, it feels like a Hollywood cliche – a kind of biological lost world torn between the technological advances foisted upon it by Westerners and the ancient traditions that bind the Malagasy people to their past.

Like so many African countries, Madagascar suffers from excruciating poverty, resource gouging by outside interests, and a complicated history stemming from colonial rule and subjugation. Cultural beliefs also often act as a hindrance to the conservation of the local wildlife. Fady is one such example. Fady are cultural taboos and prohibitions, and they wreak havoc on species like the island’s quirky aye-ayes.

Aye-ayes are a type of lemur that looks sort of like what you might get if you crossed Yoda’s hair with the face of a perpetually surprised and alopecia-addled mongoose with Mickey Mouse ears. So they are not only one of the less adorable creatures of the animal kingdom (unless you are a fan of the fugly, as I am), they are also believed to be an omen of death. Which doesn’t win you a lot of friends. The story goes that if one points its bony little finger in your direction, you are as good as gone. Not surprisingly, the aye-aye is not a fan favourite for the locals. In fact, one might say that these poor creatures are persecuted. Luckily, they are nocturnal, making their dalliances with humans less frequent. Had they been diurnal or crepuscular, they would’ve likely gone extinct long ago.

Though I wish I had, I did not get to see an aye-aye while I was visiting Madagascar, but I did see quite a few other lemur species, including a pair of rough-necked lemurs who lived in the trees above a lodge I stayed in on the tiny island of Ile aux Nattes. These particular lemurs made a low, almost demonic barking sound as they bounce about from tree to tree, feasting on mangos and dropped both their scraps and their poop on whatever is below them. One of them was very inquisitive and friendly, climbing down from the tree tops for a scratch behind the ears from a willing human now and again. This particular lemur also took a shine to my toothpaste, which I had to wrestle from her surprisingly tight grip more than once during my stay. Crest, just so you know, your ProHealth toothpaste has at least one lemur fan.

In contrast to the ruff-necked lemurs’ somewhat unnerving bark, the indri (also the world’s largest lemur) sing a hauntingly ethereal song as they cruise about the forests of Andasibe. With a musical symphony that begins at daybreak, their calls reverberate throughout the trees, pinging from one section of the forest to another as the primates get their day going and start their search for food. Their calls remind me a little of whalesong, with that almost whimsical sine curve of sliding arpeggios swinging high and dropping low. Indris also have impossibly long eyelashes, which I’m sure has nothing to do with their singing, but it’s just an observation. And while they are no less inquisitive than the ruff-necked lemurs I met, they don’t come right up to you looking for an ear scratch. Which is disappointing to someone like me, who would probably touch every animal I could if I didn’t think I might potentially lose a hand (or at least some fingers) in the process. I was that child in the store who could not help herself from picking up EVERYTHING. It’s shocking I still have all my limbs.

Anyway, in celebration of these beautiful animals, I thought I’d share a few pics of some of the locals I had the privilege of meeting on my whirlwind jaunt through this mystical island. Enjoy! And please, if you’re interested in visiting this amazing country, message me. I’m happy to offer suggestions and advice. It’s an epic adventure worth the challenges and the price tag. And you’d be doing some good for conservation AND humanity because the local communities (human and wildlife alike) could seriously use the tourist dollars.

Categories: adventure, Africa, Animal, Conservation, Madagascar, nature, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’m Ba-ack! And Full of New Animal Knowledge as Well as Headaches From Too Much Coffee Trying to Learn It All

Morning walk to work

Morning walk to work

Wow, many new developments since I last wrote. A giraffe gets killed and cut up in front of an audience at a zoo; another rhino sub-species goes extinct. Time is always marching on, often dragging me behind like a raggedly blanket.

You may have been wondering where I’ve been. Or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you haven’t missed me at all. That’s okay. We all have busy lives.

For those of you who actually DO want to know what I’ve been doing, this next section is for you. The rest of you can skip ahead a few paragraphs. Or you can go back to your regularly scheduled programming and skip the rest entirely.

I started a degree programme for veterinary technology. I figured if I’m working with animals, I should really know a lot more about them, from behavior to diseases to anatomy. I am also learning about how to administer anaesthesia and other drugs, which is the part I don’t really love (not that it isn’t interesting; just isn’t my thing). However, like any degree, there are classes where you blissfully race ahead in the reading (if only you could make more hours in the day) and classes where the reading is like a Sunday stroll through hell.  Or maybe I’m the only one who gets blissful about a class. Regardless, Veterinary Anesthesia and Surgical Assisting is my Sunday stroll through hell. However, Small Animal Diseases and Veterinary Medical Terminology are my happy places. Not sure what that says about me.

At this point, what I’m going to do with this degree is not really important to me. It is more for me to have the knowledge so that I can explore a few different options. One of my dreams is to run a rehabilitation center, so obviously this type of work would be extremely useful. And if I ever wanted to work in the field again, this would certainly give me a boost. Or maybe I’ll hit the zoo circuit. As is always the case with me, you never know where I’ll end up.

I’m also doing the degree for my own love of learning. I am a nerd. I admit it. According to Gallup’s Strengths Finder test, Learner is actually my top strength. If you can call that a strength. Two of my other strengths are Activator and Command. Activator apparently means I’m a catalyst for change and like getting things started (though I don’t necessarily care about finishing them) and Command is sort of self-explanatory. Command is the rarest one of the 34, in fact, especially in women. And Activator sits at #29. Which I guess means I’m a rare lil bird who commands people to action and likes to spend her days sucking up knowledge? It’s no wonder my resume reads like the route of a pinball.

In the meantime, I have been working full-time as a writer and editor, with four massive projects on my lap and a few lingering shyly in the wings, trying to take the stage whenever the big ones decide to clear out. Ten or more hours a day on that, plus four to five hours of study per night. And I try to squeeze in some sort of hike whenever I can, since my butt is starting to fuse to the furniture. On weekends I spend my time working at an animal shelter. Ask me about my social life. You can probably sum it up in one word – none. Though I do keep wine on hand for emergencies.

On top of this, my external drive (the one with all of my photos) got corrupted, so I spent a few weeks trying to salvage whatever I could. Luckily it appears many files made it through unscathed.  There were 130,000+, so you can imagine it took a while…Why didn’t I have back-ups? Easy. That WAS my back-up. I had them on my laptop as well, but I had to wipe the entire OS when my machine was having issues, so that external was the only copy I had.

I’ve also been running back and forth to the Department of Home Affairs, sorting out my visa (which did indeed get sorted out, finally – South Africa is stuck with me for at least three more years).  Home Affairs is not a quick process. In fact, it requires every ounce of patience a person can muster. There is no rhyme or reason to the system there (if there even IS a system), and you have to stand in line to stand in line to stand in line to get a piece of paper, because they won’t allow you to download forms from the inter webs. It’s a joy. But it’s done, at least for the next few years!!!

At any rate, I’m not exactly back on track, but I’m going to do my bestest to write as often as possible. Well, write as often as possible with something at least mildly interesting to say. I could write more often, but the space would be filled with a lot of dramatic pauses as I scour my brain for anything noteworthy.

That’s really it from my side today. I’m attaching some photos of the friends I made on a recent trip to Zanzibar (I admit it, I just like writing that word). It seems I make friends wherever I go these days. But none of them speak human. I’d say it makes the conversation a bit stilted and one-sided, but they have plenty to say. It just takes a little more effort for us to understand each other.

One thing I learned – fish love fresh coconut. And they have no problem trying to take off the tips of your fingers to get to it.

Oh, wait, two things – in Tanzania, they pronounce it Tan-Zah-Nee-Ah, with the emphasis on the Zah. Not Tan-Zuh-Nee-Uh, emphasis on Nee. Learn new things every day, you do.


All rights reserved. ©2014 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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