Aye-aye Found!

What a sensational Madagascar wildlife expedition I embarked on this past June. As expected, the wildlife started off with a bang. Sensational views of some of Madagascar’s most sensational lemur species, including the island’s largest living lemur—the Indri. Not only are they beautiful to behold, but they let out this spine-tingling wail as a form of steady communication with their own family and amongst neighboring troops.

An arboreal Indri lemur peers at our group from the treetops


As we ascended into the quintessential Malagasy rain forests and cloud forests, the wildlife just got better. Spotting Sifakas (a type of lemur that happens to look and behave extremely human-like), camouflaged chameleons, and of course leaping lemurs.

A Milne-Edwards sifaka takes a momentary pause from leaping through the branches

In our vehicles, we continued toward the Southwest of Madagascar. Descending from the misty cloud forests of Ranomafana to the Jurassic sandstone deserts surrounding Isalo National Park is a drive unlike any other in the world. Within a matter of hours the scenery changes from one of mystery, shrouded hillsides, and windy roads, to one of immensely sweeping vistas and desert views in all directions.

A river rushes through the cloud forests of Ranmafana National Park

The juxtaposition of misty cloud forest and jurassic sand stone desert is beyond comparison

With every change of scenery you also get an entirely new suite of lemur species

This grand expedition concluded in perhaps the best way possible.


Not only did we end up with a grand finale of coastal forests and perhaps my favorite lemur species on the entire island, the Coquerel’s Sifaka, but we were in the heart of an area with the best chance in the world to spot a wild Aye-aye lemur—a creature so distinct, so unique, and so…well, awkward, that it has been singled out as a type of living taboo for centuries. And unfortunately its numbers are dwindling such that they are now one of the rarest creatures in the world.


The coastal forests around Anjajavy are now a stronghold as a novel reintroduction program takes hold.

Anjajavy is home to one of the finest jungle lodges in the world...an apt base camp for exploring Northern Madagascar

The beauty of Anjajavy goes much deeper than the surface of its electric sunsets and secluded sandy shores. Its healthy ecosystem, isolation (no roads connect it with the major cities in Madagascar), and dedicated team of hotel managers turn conservation biologists, a creature as sensitive and rare as an Aye-aye may find this place the perfect home. It might become a stronghold for one of the world’s most unique primates.

Red babobab trees dot the coastline of Anjajavy

Still, though, finding an Aye-aye is no easy feat. And while the forests of Anjajavy are protected and safe, the trails one must walk on to trek through brush and forest in search of this elusive creature are anything but safe and secure. Tsingy predominates underfoot—a type of hardened limestone, remnant of an ancient coral reef ecosystem, shreds shoes, is razor sharp, and is entirely unforgiving if you lose your footing as you tip toe on rock needle points.

Tsingy is wildly sharp...one wrong step will lead to a rapid evac

However, it’s all worth it, and upon arrival at the Anjajavy airstrip, we learned quickly that one of the 23 known nest sites of a recently-reintroduced female Aye-aye was within hiking distance. It’s on.


In the world of wildlife tracking, observation, and photography, you have to roll with the punches. The more time you spend trying to sight something extraordinary, the more rewards you’ll have. Thus, we conservation biologists and ecotourism guides spend a lot of time looking, knowing this adage and putting the time in.


I’ve been looking for this particular creature for the better part of 12 years on various Madagascar expeditions. Nothing. We try and try—we spend all night out in a buggy swamp just to see a small branch move a thousand feet away. And that was it—that was our sighting.


But this time was different. After a mere 20 minute hike (albeit, across tsingy) and 10 minutes of concentration on its nesting site, there it was. An adult Aye-aye emerged from its daily slumber and gave us the show of a lifetime. For once in my life, I couldn’t even break my attention to take the photo at first—it was a sort of holy grail to me, and to my group of adventurers. We knew this was special, rare, and spectacular. I managed to fire off a couple dimly-lit photos as the tangerine sunset behind us on the Indian Ocean.

My first ever glimpse of a wild Aye-aye. Bizarre, thrilling, entranced...a big life sighting for me

After its initial exit, it sat, groomed, and observed us, as we stood in awe of it. She went away for a minute or two only to come back, scurry around the branches 20 feet from where we stood, and the show went on. Here, a surprisingly graceful and beautiful creature allowed us a glimpse into its life…its daily routine.

Definitely not my best photography, but dangit I captured it--proof!

There was no doubt something immensely special about this sighting. While I was no doubt enthusiastic for the mere fact of seeing it, I was perhaps more happy for the group of ecotourists I was guiding, as this singular sighting on one of the last nights of our expedition capped off what was the most sensational trip to Madagascar I’ve done to date.


Seeing this incredible island nation through my guests' eyes is one of the things I love most about guiding. And being with a group for my first Aye-aye sighting was one of the best gifts I could have received. Nature delivered once again.


Cheers,

Court

©2019 by Court Whelan.