Welcome

Hi everyone!
Thanks for visiting varikamavo.nl, a site created to keep you updated about my PhD project: “Parasite Prevalence in Wildlife”. I'm a biologist/ecologist interested in the effects of habitat disturbance on parasite prevalence, behavioural strategies and the health of primates, and specifically lemurs. Varikamavo is the Malagasy name for the Red-fronted Lemur; Eulemur rufifrons, the focal species of my research. On this site, you can find information about my project, past and current activities, arranging research in Madagascar and more :)!

Wild primates are fascinating creatures that occupies a special place in the hearts of people around the globe. The unique clade of lemurs evolved in isolation on the island Madagascar and rivals monkeys and apes found elsewhere in the world in their diversity in both behaviour and morphology. One truly feels fascinated when near these agile tree dwellers as they serenely warm up in the sun, groom each other, or move through the lush vegetation, observing us observing them with a curiosity emerging in their eyes. It is worrisome to imagine a world without these charming animals, but with the development and implementation of effective conservation measures, we may not have to.

5 May 2014
Nosy’s

Our next destination is Nosy komba, from which we will sample the lemurs on all the surrounding islands. We are very interested in the question how island isolation influences the health of lemurs, including their inbreeding status. Although most lemur populations are doing well, some groups of Nosy komba have disappeared. We were told that local villagers hunt them down the mountain with a group of dogs, after which they are killed and sold as bush meat, for only 20 000 AR per plate (about 6 euros), horrible. The remaining groups on this island are more habituated and nearly obese. The villagers feed them a lot of bananas to lure them for tourists and to put them on their shoulders. Like in a zoo.. I hope this will not occur all over Madagascar, when tourism would increase elsewhere in the country as well. Fortunately, the populations on Nosy be look very healthy, slim, agile and reserved towards human, as it should be.

Again this is paradise on earth, a lush rainforest, filled with amazing creatures. The crystal clear waters and coral reef nearby makes working here very pleasant.

29 Apr 2014
Ankarafantsika

After some big problems with the car, which made us sleep in some small villages along the road, we finally reached Ankarafansika, a beautiful National Park with a very contrasting habitat. On one side of the park you can find a giant lake with crocodiles and lemurs resting nearby. Behind a large forest patch, full of snakes, birds, and chameleons and – of course – lemurs, a savannah arises. This savannah looks just like the ones we known from Southern Africa, but with one big difference: large herbivores and predators are missing. Here in this savannah, many species of birds and some snakes, lizards and insects are present. By walking through the savannah, we encountered a huge land slide created a canyon with amazing differences in sand colours, pinnacles and unique sandstone formations.

We spent one week in the research camp here, while sampling Eulemur fulvus, E. mongoz, as well as a group of hybridised individuals of these species. So special to see the result of hybridisation, as the hybrids show morphological characteristics of both species (e.g., the black face of fulvus and the red beard of mongoz). Curious how they will perform in our tests on MHC II variability, cortisol levels as well as parasite infections.

The period in Ankarafantsika was also used to train and prepare the MSc students for their research. I am really happy that they all seem to be very enthusiastic and motivated, this will be a great field season again!

27 Apr 2014
Field season III
After a quite busy period consisting of congress visits, analyses, students that finalise their master thesis projects or write their proposals and preparing our next research plans, field season III can start! This time with four MSc students that will perform their thesis projects: Hilde, Elke, Freek and Jeroen. After one night in Saka Manga and the usual arrangements in Tana (e.g., MICET, the research stations, Malagasy student and professor of the University, driver) the fieldwork can start!
25 Mar 2014
SCCS Cambridge
Very interesting congress, nice to meet up with TBA alumni as well. And, very special: I met Rio here, a friend from Madagascar. It has been four days of exceptional and professional talks by students and plenary speakers as well as workshops on conservation issues.
25 Jan 2014
Back to Tana
It is time to end this second field season. After two long days of driving, with some problems along the road, such as a flooding river and some people with upset intestines, we reached Tana just in time to catch our flight back. It has been three invigorating months travelling around Madagascar, experiencing the wildlife, living so closely connected to nature and experiencing the local culture through the eyes of Solofo (our Malagasy student), our field guides and local villagers throughout the island. The challenges the country is facing are daunting: industrial and illegal logging, destructive hunting, a rapidly growing population, and, of course, the potential impacts of climate change. It can be hard to remain optimistic in the face of all of this, and to find alternatives for the local people than exploiting the natural forests. We must push forward and continue trying to find workable solutions to these challenges. Having experienced the natural beauty Madagascar has to offer, we cannot turn our backs on Madagascar’s vulnerable forests, and the lemurs, that rely on them. I am even more motivated to find answers to the research questions I have and really hope that with the results of this study, I can contribute to the conservations of both Madagascar’s forests and the creatures that stole my heart: lemurs. Let’s start analysing the samples to unravel the secrets of the lemurs’ faeces ;).
22 Jan 2014
To the islands

The next day we started back down the mountain to try to reach one of the islands in front of the cost of Madagascar before dusk. After a hectic welcome in the harbour of Ankify, we said goodbye to our driver Fano and took a small boat to Nosy komba. There, we found the perfect house to stay: simple, cheap and with a magnificent view over the garden (coconut trees, flowers and sunbirds!), the beach, the ocean and other small islands. Motivated students, many lemurs in the forest behind and plenty of room to process our collected samples, let the research start!

The next day we were already welcomed in our own garden by the first group of Eulemur macaco, with their curious eyes, dog-like faces, and elegant way of jumping through the canopy. They groomed for a minute or two and started eating from the mango trees in front of our house. I realised that here on the islands, people and wildlife co-exist very closely every day.

The next days, we sampled multiple groups of macaco on several islands (Nosy komba, Nosy be and even a small group of E. fulvus on Nosy tanikely. Exciting to work in a forest that is so closely located to the ocean, with crystal clear water, turtles, dolphins, huge schools of fish and an intact and diverse coral reef (including nudibranchs =)). Nothing better than enjoying this paradise, after a long, hot and sweaty day in the forest.

19 Jan 2014
Montagne d’Ambre

After Diego, we set out to visit another important national park in the north of Madagascar: Montagne d’Ambre. The way up was steep and the road very slippery, but we made it to a very nice and friendly hostel, with nice view on the bay of Diego and our own special pet; tortoise Jeff, ruling the house.

The next morning we awoke with the green mountains in the distance, ready for our lemur quest! Unfortunately, the rain continued and - despite the attempts and perseverance of our young driver - our Land Rover failed to get up the slippery mountain. Fortunately, the car of our Swiss friends that we had met along the road made it, so we hitch hiked with them. The forest was dense and high. Our first sighting was a very well camouflaged leaf tailed gecko, an amazing creature. The view on the high waterfall was great, better than on the pictures in the Lonely Planet, just as the beautiful lake. The rain continued though, and despite some chameleons, tiny Brookesia minima and a fast travelling group of E. sanfordi, we were not able to sample any lemurs today for our pilot study, although this forest must be filled with hidden animals.

After a long day of rain, our host served us a very welcome, hot meal of delicious “Poulet au Coco” (chicken with coconut rice) with a shot of vanilla rum. As we were running out of time, we decided to continue sampling on the islands Nosy be and Nosy komba, as a pilot study for my next field season in which I aim to explore the potential effect on island isolation on lemur health and parasite infections

17 Jan 2014
Diego/Antsiranana
Before heading to our next research sites, we spend a day in Diego, the biggest city in the north of Madagascar. Great to see the ocean, including corals, and to go dancing at night. A completely different life compared to our last months in the forests ;).
16 Jan 2014
Ankarana

After two long days of driving, driving, driving, we arrived at Ankarana NP. We spend the night in simple thus close to the entrance, together with tons of cockroaches, mosquitoes and geckos. We started early the next day and soon we spotted two species of the Eulemur genus I have not seen before: Eulemur sanfordi and coronatus, so great to see them. After sampling several groups during the day, we past the unique tsingy formation. To me it felt like a fantasy world, the spines of calcium and limestone, carved by rain erosion over millions of years, with some strangling plants, Pachypodium trees (like elephant foot) and flowers in between. The tsingys rise above the green forests in the canyons and crossing them via a large hanging bridge provides us with a great view over this stone labyrinth.
One day we also climbed to the top of a mountain, overlooking the tsingys. One of the best places to have a lunch, while enjoying a breath taking view of the sun lighting up the tsingy pinnacles. The approaching dark clouds with thunder and rain made the scene even more dramatic.
After the last sampling day, we visited a large cave that was completely covered with fruit-eating flying foxes. Thousands of eyes watched us from above, while other bats kept on flying in and out of the cave. The smell of guano was typical too. This scene reminded me of a famous documentary by Sir. David Attenborough.. what an opportunity to experience this ourselves.

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