Discovering Kianjavato - Hilary Bradt

Hilary Bradt

06 Jan 2017

Exploring Kianjavato

It may seem odd that one of the highlights of my recent trip to Madagascar with Natural World Safaris was the arrival of our guide, Harry, to a dark mountain top, waving a piece of paper. But our afternoon at Kianjavato, open only to Natural World Safari tours, was extraordinary from beginning to end.

First, our visit to the Field Station, where we met a couple of bubbly volunteers, and learned of their work monitoring and helping to extend the range of the very rare Greater Bamboo Lemur, along with the Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur and the Aye Aye. The lemurs are radio-collared, so they can be tracked, but for these three endangered species to survive they need habitat, so reforestation is one of the most important activities of Kianjavato. Using the knowledge that seeds that have passed through a lemur germinate best, local people collect lemur poo and plant the seeds in nurseries, thus automatically selecting the fruits that lemurs (mainly the black-and-white ruffed) like best, and giving them the best start in life. 

Read more about Kianjavato

School Visit

Then to the school. I’ve visited many schools but never as one as unrestrainedly joyous as this one. We were greeted by a leaf-tailed gecko and a bamboo lemur, leaping impressively around the room. Their diminutive operators had made the costumes themselves (though surely with a lot of help – they were very realistic) and if anything is going to teach the younger generation of Malagasy the importance of conservation it is this. And of course we all took loads of photos, and once these kids had cottoned on to what we were showing them in the monitor, any attempt by the teachers to maintain discipline was abandoned. 

We didn’t want to leave but the most memorable part of our visit was yet to come.

One of the Kianjavato guides had assured us that we could see Aye Ayes ‘very near the road’. Now I know how difficult it is to see Aye Ayes. In fact in my 30 plus visits to Madagascar I’ve never seen an Aye Aye that was truly wild. We also wanted to see the Greater Bamboo Lemur while it was still light, and the seed-dispersing Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur. Success with both, after an easy walk along a path that wound through an old coffee plantation. 

The Aye Ayes proved more elusive, despite the strong beeps coming from their radio collars. We started up a steep hill, slithering in the mud (this was, after all, rain forest) and hanging onto vines and tree trunks to haul ourselves up in the encroaching darkness. Aye Ayes are nocturnal so our only chance of seeing them was to stay after dark. I remembered that I hadn’t charged my headtorch so my only illumination was a cheap hand torch with fading batteries. We climbed and climbed, and slithered, until the radio man said that the Aye Ayes were overhead and probably just starting to wake up. We were all standing on a 45 degree slope, propping ourselves up on trees as best we could, and following torch beams into the canopy. We saw nothing. It was dark and eventually we would have to make our way down that hillside. That was when Harry arrived waving his piece of paper. It was the menu, and never has the diversion of choosing what we wanted for dinner so he could phone it back to the restaurant been more pleasurable.

 “There!” “Where?” “Can’t you see?” “Ahhhh, look! See its tail! Wow!” “Where is the bloody thing?” That was me. Actually I didn’t say bloody I said something else. It was very frustrating, all the rest of the group ooohing and ahhhhing and taking brilliant photos and I couldn’t see the animal. Then I did (typically I’d been looking in the wrong tree). A beautiful, clearly visible Aye Aye, its eyes like lanterns in the torch’s beam , its tail like a fox’s brush.

Wow! My first truly wild Aye Aye in 40 years of visiting the island. And my first Greater Bamboo Lemur. And one of the most appreciated dinners ever, after our safe descent, and the icing on the cake – a Tenrec bustling through the grass near the road. Another first.

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