The aye-aye is a weird and wonderful creature that can only be found on the island of Madagascar. They are nocturnal primates who live in trees, rarely ever coming down to the ground. Not an attractive lemur; they are small, weighing only approximately two kilos and their bushy tails are almost double the size of their body. They are easily recognisable as they have big beady eyes, long bony fingers and opposable big toes enabling them to dangle from trees. Lacking the cuddly Disney qualities of their dancing cousins, the aye-aye looks like more of a Frankenstein hybrid between a koala and rat with rodent-like teeth! It’s not all about looks though – the aye-aye has the largest relative brain size of any lemur. Previously thought to be extinct, this endangered species was rediscovered in 1961.
Mythology surrounding these inquisitive creatures has contributed to their dramatic decline in numbers and their ‘threatened’ status. Malagasy legend believes that the aye-aye is a harbinger of death with the appearance of one predicting the ill-fate of a villager. Many believe that the aye-aye will sneak into your room at night, piercing your heart with its long, slender middle finger. As a result these relatively tame creatures stumbling into villages in search of food were often killed on sight by individuals who want to avoid the curse. Aye-ayes are not scared of humans and are often intrigued by the sight of them, completely unaware of the danger.
In addition to negative superstition, the factor of huge deforestation across the country has meant the aye-aye population has been devastated. Although they are now protected by law in Madagascar, due to the abundance of stigma attached to them they are still in a great deal of danger as there are less than 2000 left in the wild.
Fortunately, most people heading to Madagascar in search of the aye-aye will consider a sighting to be extremely lucky; these nocturnal creatures are quite elusive. In the Kianjavato project, a lemur conservation reserve that Natural World Safaris has unique access to, there is a resident mother and baby aye-aye. Finding them involves a steep trek up into the hills at night with the sounds of the forest echoing around you; not for the faint-hearted but extremely rewarding.
Aye-Aye Fast Facts
Animal type: mammal
Scientific name: Daubentonia madagascariensis