Study Abroad Summer 2018 fun goodbyes by Lynda

This is the last week of our journey. We have learned so much during thae past 6 weeks together. We have done our presentations for our independent projects. The preparation has been stressful but wehave been assisted by wonderful professors who showed us the way to analyze our data and to communicate our results. Despite the stress everything went very well. We went to Fianarantsoa University to present. We have been told that many people will assist the presentations but we were surprised to see how big the auditorium was. It has a big stage and it was full of students, professors and Center Valbio Staff. Almost 400 people! We went on stage to talk about our research and every student did an amazing job! After the presentations, we went back to Antananarivo for one night and travelled next day to Andasibe to see the biggest lemur in Madagascar, the Indri (Indri indri). We visited the community reserve of Mandraka which has many lemurs, many species of frogs, chameleons and geckos. It was incredible to see the leaf-tailed geckos.

Now that trip is ending I realize that I have met wonderful people that I became friends with. It wasn’t easy at the beginning because English is not our first language, so sometimes communication has been hard. But we did understand each other anyway because kindness and friendship don’t necessarily need to be expressed by words. There are smiles and gestures that show everything. We have been there for each other all along the trip. It was a blast to be part of this adventure. My favorite moment is when we went kayaking. The boat was filled with water and I got wet and at some point our kayak turned over and we fell in the water. I was uncomfortable and wet but very happy. I said to myself after that “That was a good day!”

After that, we traveled to Isalo national park, near thevillage of Ranohira.It is very large, 80 000 square ha. Its name comes from the Andasonianza plant, endemic to the park. The park is rocky and dry, with three species of lemur including the dancing sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi), as well as chameleons, birds, and plants. We saw the elephant foot tree, tapia (also endemic), and others. It is very beautiful.

As we know, Madagascar has many tribes. In Isalo we learned about the Bara tribe, who we learned traditionally steal zebu to show power and strength. In this tradition, a Bara man will only be accepted as a husband if he has successfully stolen zebu. A powerful man can have many wives, and his wives do not have power.

The trip is ending with the last exam and the last dinner to the Boussole cafe hotel. At dinner, we went around the table and told one by one our feelings about the trip and suggestions to improve the trip next time. We also discussed what we learned during our training.

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Thank you Madagascar by Nikki LaRocca

As this trip comes to a close, I realize how much each person I have meet has impacted me and has impacted my life over the last 6 weeks. This trip as a whole has opened my eyes to how big this world truly is, but has also made me learn more about myself in total. The beauty of this country will never be forgotten between the scenery and as well as the people, so true and pure. The miles of rice patties along the mountains with the innocent children running and playing through them as the Zebu graze. Lemurs jumping through the trees while the birds sing above. The beautiful smiles of all the children as we say “Salama” and ask for high fives. Sights and experiences we will all truly treasure forever; and as it hurts my heart to leave this amazing country as well as all the people I have met and grown with over the last 6 weeks, I know its time to go back to our homes. It’s a bittersweet ending, but you see, sometimes those are the best endings. They show you worth, and the importance of the experiences you’ve lived as well as relationships you’ve built. And even though we don’t know what is to come in the future, we know this is not a final goodbye, but rather, a see you soon.

Lunch in Ambostra

Lunch at Violette Hotel in Ambositra on the way back to Antananarivo

Now for everyone who has impacted me on this trip. To Lynda and Yasmir, we thank you for welcoming us into your beautiful country, teaching us about your culture and yourselves. Lynda you’re hysterical and a GREAT dancer, you never fail to put a smile on all of our faces. And Yasmir, you’re brilliant, sweet, strong, and an amazing singer. I admire both of you for your drive and compassion towards your interests and future endeavors. And even though we may all not see each other again, we will stay connected through social media to watch each other grow and flourish. Tee, you’ve brought light to our group, every room you walk into you light up with your dancing, laughing and bubbly personality, not to mention your endless love for children and how it rubbed off on all of us. Your confidence is contagious as well as your laugh and your presentation was flawless. Sophie, you’re determined, energetic, and focused. You’ve brought life and laughs to our group and of course, you showed us all up climbing that baobab tree.  Luke, even though we have been friends prior to this trip, our friendship has grown stronger over the last few weeks and I am very thankful for that. Your humor is perfectly matched with your wisely placed sarcasm and you know how to entertain a crowd. Thanks for always venturing out with me, even if it led to you falling into a ditch. To Heather, over the course of this trip you have really come out of your shell, you speak your mind and always keep us laughing with your cat stories. We can always count on you to strike up a conversation. And Melanie, you’re kind, caring, and sure know how to party. Your independent project was easily the coolest out of all of us. Gabby, you always keep the conversation going, not to mention the hilarious stories you tell us, you’re not afraid to speak your mind and of course, your love for birds is endless and we ALL know. None of us will be able to hear the word “WOW” again without thinking about you.

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WOW!

Mackenzie, you have such an intriguing and outgoing personality, your stories are unique as well as your esophagus and you always know how to have a good time. We all thank you for introducing us to cookie butter, as well as the crazy salt you supplied for us at every dinner. Kevin, your talent in music is incredible, every instrument you pick up you can play, and play well. You are ambitious and nonchalantly hysterical, you always know what to say and when to say it to make everyone laugh. We will all be waiting for your recording with your new instruments. And Mel, thanks for being my twin and my other half. The jokes we’ve made and fun we’ve had working together will be something I’ll always cherish. Not to mention you’ve made all of us now yell randomly in deep voices. And like I said, even though this trip is over, the friendships we have made are not. I’m so thankful to have met all of you and can’t wait to see where our friendships will go from here. Tharcisse, thank you for being our dad for the last 6 weeks, taking care of us through our various bouts of illness (especially me) as well as making sure we are all together and having fun. To Franck, your laugh will forever be stuck in our heads. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us from teaching us Malagasy, catering to our various food requests, and always making every experience fun and enjoyable, your dance moves will never be forgotten. To Catherine, Elise and Patricia Wright, we thank you for enlightening us with your knowledge, you are all amazingly brilliant in your own ways and we were so lucky to have had the privilege to travel and learn with and from you. And for everyone else at Centre ValBio, We can’t thank you enough for how welcoming you all were, you took us in with open arms and treated us like family. We had our fun from the parties, to the dancing, but also built professional relationships that will benefit some in the time to come. And lastly, Jeanne, Jess, and everyone at Stony Brook in the study Abroad Office, this trip wouldn’t have happened without your help, we cant thank you enough for all the fun you planned.

Overall, this trip was amazing and unique for each one of us, we learned an incredible amount, saw new species, experienced new adventures, gained insights on our futures, and got a taste of what field work really is. We learned about ourselves and others, the beautiful culture of this land and the welcoming people who inhabit it. Thank you Madagascar for being so great to all of us, I know I am not alone when I say this, but I will see you again.

 

Week IV: La Vida Es Un Carnaval by Tahiana Abad

Denis Waitley once said, “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” My experience in Madagascar has been nothing but extraordinary and mind-opening. I have learned a substantial amount of knowledge about the richness of this country; such as its breathtaking biodiversity and authentic culture. But I have also had the privilege of learning a lot of things about myself and I thank being disconnected from social media for this. Just as Denis Waitley mentioned, “happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude” and it was not until this week that I learned the true meaning behind simplicityand living in the moment.

Thank you Madagascar

Learnt the simplicity of living in the moment

During our first couple of days in Madagascar, we were all told by our instructors that we were going to have an entire week to work on collecting data for a research question of our choice. With time, seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks… and before we knew it, we were just a few days before the most anticipated week of them all: Week IV.

As many of you have read from Kevin Price’s blog post earlier this month, I am known as the Child Whisperer amongst my group and words cannot express how thankful I am of this label. When I first arrived to Madagascar, I was completely taken away by the children’s care-free spirits, loving personalities, and optimistic attitudes. With time, my love for the children started growing tremendously because they reminded me of when I was a child in the Dominican Republic—when I was living a simple life and enjoying every moment without a single hesitation of the past nor the future. With that in mind, it was without a doubt that I was going to focus my research question on a topic that revolves learning more about this country’s outstanding culture.

My research question focused on evaluating if there is a generational difference in the perceived effectiveness of natural remedies versus synthetic remedies when it comes to malaria and diarrhea amongst three different generations of Malagasy females from three different villages. As a Dominican woman, I have always observed that in my culture older generations tend to lean more towards using traditional remedies for resolving medical issues than synthetic remedies. For instance, vapor rub! (It works, trust me!). Particularly, I surveyed 30 Malagasy females from three different villages and ended up with a total of 90 completed surveys in total. It was quite an experience! Since I can go day in and out speaking about my experience, I will speak upon what valuable lesson I learned from every village I visited throughout my long week of data collection.            I spent my Sunday and Monday in Manokakora with my absolutely fabulous and hilarious guide: Herry. Before heading to the village, I was extremely anxious because this was my first time going into a village without the company of my fellow study abroad folks. Our drive from CVB to Manokakora was approximately 20 minutes, excluding the numerous stops we made along the way, and I can reassure to you that my anxiety level only increased the closer we got to the village.

However, all of that subsided when I was welcomed with hugs and cheers from the villagers as soon as I arrived in Manokakora. It was at that moment that everything sank into place and I was ready to start off my day! Manokakora is a breathtaking village full of enthusiastic and joyful villagers. I was able to bond with majority of the villagers and learn more about the Malagasy culture (even practice my Malagasy!). One of the greatest highlights of my visit in Manokakora was meeting Bebe Ruru, an amazing elderly woman who reminded me of my own grandmother. As soon as I arrived in Manokakora, she gave me a beautiful and uniquely special hat that means a lot to her. I felt like a Princess.

Bebe Ruru

Bebe Ruru’s hat make me feel like a Princess

At the end of our day, Herry and I would go to the Market Place to check out different stores and cool places that people normally don’t know about. So, while at Manokakora, not only did I get to survey three different generations of women, play with the children, and learn/speak Malagasy but I was also able to strengthen my connection to my spirituality by learning more about myself and meeting inspirational individuals with purest intentions ever.

For Tuesday and Wednesday, I went to Tanambao. Similar to Manokakora, I was welcomed by heart-warming children! The King and Queen of the Tanambao village welcomed me into their home and were very accepting of my research. My trip to Tanambao was the most emotionally triggering out of the three villages I visited. As many know, I love to dance! So Wednesday afternoon, after I finished conducting all the surveys for Tanambao, I decided to teach the children Zumba in the pouring rain! My rain jacket definitely did not help keep me dry but I did not let that stop me. The children and parents were all having a good time and that is what mattered the most! After teaching them Zumba for approximately an hour and a half, it was time to head back to CVB. This is when the tears started rolling down my cheeks. As I exited the village, all of the kids surrounded me and shouted “Ta-ee-na” as I walked down the slippery slope. I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken because I knew this was the last time I was going to see them considering that I only have about two weeks left in Madagascar before it is time to head back home. What Tanambao taught me is that sometimes the things you believe in are insignificant or small—but can actually mean the world for someone else. Tanambao showed me that we should never devalue an experience but that we should cherish each and every piece of it. In my case, teaching the children Zumba was relatively simple; however, to them it meant the world and you could see it from the smiles on their faces whenever I would do a complicated move and from the laughs whenever one of them freestyled to Folaka La Cle by Mario.

Children of Tanambao after Zumba

Hard to leave these kids after a session of zumba

The third and last village—Nanda, showed me how to appreciate the world we live in. For example, I am obsessed with the sky! I am absolutely mesmerized by the wonders of the outside world. It fascinates me how precious life is—how I can just look up at the sky and feel that all of my problems subside. When I was in Nanda, I finished my surveys at about 6:30PM and as many of you know, it is winter time here in Madagascar so as soon as the clock hits 6:30PM, it is absolutely dark outside! Nanda does not have any streetlights nor any form of human-made interference that would affect the appearance of the sky. It was at that moment—as I looked up at the clusters of stars lying directly above me, that I realized how precious this moment was. I would do anything to have a view like this in New York. I was mesmerized—completely taken aback by the beauty that surrounded me. At that very moment, everything seemed perfect. The laughs, joy, tears, and memories—all perfect. I felt homesick. Not because I wanted to leave Madagascar but because I finally found a homein a country away from home.

             Dear Madagascar,

            Within a matter of four weeks, you have taught me a lot about what makes you, you. But you also taught me more about myself than I have known these past couple of years. I want to thank you. Thank you for allowing me to indulge in your beauty and explore your horizons. Thank you for opening my heart again. Thank you for being you. I will be returning soon!

T.

 

Independent Project Week by Gabrielle Solomon

After we all spent days putting an endless amount of effort into our project proposals, we began collecting data for the entire week. Some of the projects that individuals anticipated on pursuing did not go according to plan. Due to the stomach flu, Nikki and Mel’s plan to study the Black-and-White Ruffed lemurs in Mangevo was no longer an option. Mackenzie’s plan to study the leeches did not work out since their densities were low. I received news that Kevin and Melanie also had to change their project ideas, since their initial study did not work out. Although many of us experienced challenges, it was nothing we couldn’t handle. We all had a plan B! Nikki and Mel decided to study the lemurs in Talatakely and Vatoharanana, Mackenzie focused on camera traps, Kevin studied grooming behaviors, and Melanie studied dexterity in lemurs. The rest of us continued with our original project ideas. Some students camped in the villages, some camped in the forest, and others remained at CVB. I set off to study bird diversity and health in Talatakely and Vatoharanana (Vato for short). We were all assigned a guide depending on our research project. Jean Claude, my guide, particularly excelled in identifying birds by both sight and sound. I conducted point counts and mist-netting in both habitats. Sometimes I collected a significant amount of data and at other times, it was unsuccessful. I was discouraged when I first mist-netted and did not catch any birds. However, research is unpredictable, and as you know by now, it does not always go according to plan. The next day when I set out to mist-net, my guide told me, “Good luck and good catching!” That day, we captured a female Velvet Asity and a juvenile Spectacled Tetraka, whose mother was nearby and was incredibly unhappy that we caught her baby. We took our measurements as quickly as possible to ensure that we did not further distress her. On Tuesday, I caught a bird in my net for the first time and I was so excited that I rushed to meet my guide and Franck to tell them the big news.

Wednesday morning Yasmir and I left for our 2 hour hike to Vato where we would be spending the next few days gathering data on the birds and frogs there. Meals consisted of rice and an additive such as beans, potatoes, or eggs. My favorite was the rice water (Ranon’ampango) with condensed milk and sugar. Arriving at the campsite, I was unsure how this experience would go but I reminded myself to remain positive. As time went on, I became more used to it and focused on my research which consumed most of my days in Vato. It was nice to have the company of Yasmir as well as Nikki, who arrived on Thursday. One night Nikki and I were somewhat attacked by moths as we attempted to leave our tent for dinner (they loved our headlamps). That same night, I decided that the leeches didn’t bother me too much so I decided to wear my sandals to dinner. Big mistake! During the meal, I soon discovered that a leech was wedged between my toes but thankfully Nikki got it off for me. Earlier that day, Tharcisse visited us at our campsite and it was great to see him. He was just as excited as I was to discuss the birds that I caught and see photos of them all. Nikki, Yasmir, and I wrote a note for Tharcisse to deliver to our friends back at CVB.

The three bush girls - Yasmir, Nikki & I at campsite

      Yasmir, Nikki, and I enjoying ourselves at the campsite

That night I was out until 5:45pm taking measurements of the birds that we captured. We caught 8 birds and I was more than ecstatic. However, taking measurements in the dark was not ideal. Nikki and Yasmir left the next morning but I stayed in Vato until Sunday morning. Saturday was the first clear day in Vato and I soaked in the sun while waiting for birds to fly into my net. Unfortunately, no birds were caught that day but I did spot the Gray/Gentle Bamboo lemur! To my understanding, they are difficult to find since they are not habituated as some of the other lemur species are.

Elise came later that day to spend the night in Vato with me. I really appreciated the company since Nikki and Yasmir were no longer with me. The next morning porters arrived to carry the kitchen supplies and our luggage back to CVB. The leeches do not bother them at all. They travel barefoot, balancing the weight on their heads and our 2 hour hike takes them half the time. We departed our campsite and decided to take the longer trail back to CVB that way we may enter Bamboo lemur territory. Along the way we stopped at the outlook and saw much wildlife which included the Red-fronted Brown lemurs, Short-legged Ground Roller, Red Bellied lemurs, a Leaf Tailed Gecko, and the Golden Bamboo lemurs.

Gray-Gentle bamboo lemur

 Gray/Gentle bamboo lemur

As we got closer to CVB, I was very excited to reunite with everyone, share our experiences, and of course shower. During our camping experience, neither of us made much of an effort to really clean ourselves, aside from brushing our teeth once a day and maybe washing our faces. We accepted the fact that we smelt badly and we knew that we’d soon be back at CVB to shower. I never appreciated a shower so much. Catching up with my friends, Sophie told me about her experience bathing in the rivers with many women in Ambinanindranofotaka, giving lollipops to village children (shout out to the medical students), and Luke letting her fall into the stream (LOL). Meanwhile in Anja, Melanie recalled a time when she took a selfie with a Ring-tailed lemur. Concluding our successful independent study week, we are now eagerly waiting to begin our cross country trip tomorrow.

 

Study Abroad Third Week by Heather Quigley

June 4, 2018: Today we had a lot of lectures and learned how good Luke is at French. We were also able to rest from yesterday’s hike. The lectures were very fascinating and seemed to help a lot of people with deciding their research project. We were discussing different topics for our research paper and many students seem to have a basic idea of what they’re going to do. The research proposal is due on Friday and we will be getting the structure for it soon. Right before lunch, some of us were informed that the reason the shower have been cold was because it was disconnected which they fixed and the rest found out during lunch.

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Time for a hot shower again!

June 5, 2018: Today we had a lecture and around the end of the lecture, we saw some students visiting CVB Campus from the University of Fianarantsoa. When the lecture ended, a few of us talked to the group of visiting students and they were very nice. Later some of us went out to retrieve picture from the camera traps. The ones that stayed used that time in various ways like working on their method presentation, working on their research proposals or just relaxing. The slides for the method presentations were due at 4:00PM and we gave the presentation at 5:00PM. Everybody had 5 minutes to present their topic including focal and scan sampling, habitat, vegetation survey and phenology, DNA metabarcoding, invertebrate sampling, GPS & VHF tracking, camera trapping, recording weather data, microbiome and parasite analysis, mist-netting and point counts, and interviews. Everyone did a great job.

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Research method presentation session

The slides were then emailed to everyone so that they can study for the test tomorrow. After dinner, we had a daily wrap up and discussed what we are planning to research. We also talked about the test in hopes that we can be as prepared as possible. When we finished, I went to a gecko I saw in a mirror during the wrap up. Some of us spent some time with the gecko and then prepared for the night.

June 6, 2018: We spent the morning preparing for the test. Some of us studied in groups and some of us studied alone. At 4:45pm, we started the test and finished the test at different times. We had dinner after the test and were able to relax a bit. Some of us relaxed on the roof while others watched a movie.

June 7, 2018: Today we mostly worked on our research proposal.

June 8, 2018: Most of us finished working on our research proposal and some of us went out to eat at a local restaurant.

June 9, 2018: Today we went to Anja Community Reserve and saw the ring tail lemur. On the way there, we stopped at a gas station and some of us bought treats from the station shop. At Anja, there were a lot ring-tailed lemurs in plain view and they were about the size of cats. We also did some rock climbing and were able to get a great view.

When we left Anja Community Reserve, Melanie and Kevin stayed to do their research. We then visited a paper factory and a silk factory. For dinner, we went to a restaurant and told them that it was Cathy’s birthday!

June 10, 2018: Today Cathy left and we all said goodbye. Some of us started our research and went camping.

 

Record of Wed. & Sat., 6 & 9 June 2018 (and bits & pieces of other days also) by Luke Reynolds

Today (Wed Jun 6) compared to other days we have had thus far, was relatively tame by comparison. Our day consisted of breakfast at the usual hour followed by a series of presentations on topics ranging from reptiles and frogs to ongoing work being done by the Peace Corps in various parts of this commune.

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Whole day of lectures

Our group was briefed this morning regarding our presentations on the various survey methods we have learned about so far as well as the final exam which will come the day following. We were also informed of the tentative deadline to submit our proposals for our independent research projects and all that it entails. All and all, though it is only Monday, it is evident that it will indeed be a busy week for us all.

Though it was the first mentally demanding day in a while, many found it to be somewhat of a welcome break compared to the previous day’s activities of hiking and general jolliness with the villagers of Ambodiaviavy. It seems that some people (including myself) had come ever so slightly under the weather, likely due to previous day. Others were equally less fortunate when some of our group discovered a newfound allergy to the Madagascar green tomato, though fortunately it was not so severe. Noting these occurrences, I would say that our group is faring quite well in the grand scheme of things when considering the amount of hiking/physical exertion we have undertaken as well as when one compares our first week to the first week of the engineering team in which approximately half of them succumbed to a diarrheal death (metaphorically speaking of course). Nevertheless, there is still plenty of time in our trip and thus plenty of time for new things to happen, both good and bad but hopefully all good! For now, we continue our work diligently whilst eagerly waiting to set off on our respective excursions for our independent projects.

Alas the day (Sat 9th) is upon us; our dear professor and friend Cathy is to leave us come Sunday, a day upon which we will all begin our long anticipated independent projects.

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Two weeks with Dr. Markham comes to an end 😦 

The day had come with a brief change of scenery though, for we spent our time in the town of Anja which lied a little ways outside of Fianaratsoa, the next major town about 2-ish hours away from the comforts of CVB. It was a hike over towering rocks at the foot of what seemed to be a mountain, the likes of which none of us could keep our eyes off of with thoughts of grandeur pertaining to an attempt at climbing to the very top.

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A tower of rocks behind us

It was here that we also saw the long awaited ring-tailed lemur, a creature of which we were all already familiar with prior to embarking upon this adventure. All throughout our hike, we continued to see them jumping through trees, taking a snooze, and engaging in all kinds of eye-catching motions. We also had plenty of opportunities, which were all eagerly taken, to climb and scramble up and down steep rocks to our hearts desire, treating each climb as another attempt to reach an even higher more spectacular vantage point. Upon our departure, we gave farewell to two of our dear friends, as their projects demand them to remain in Anja for the duration of the coming week, though after today I don’t think they will have much difficulty coming to terms with this reality.

We then spent the latter part of the day exploring different places of manufacture in Ambalavao, including an artisanal paper factory and a silk making which were both seen to be incredible works of art. We then proceeded to return back to Ranomafana to have our dinner, which indeed was a bit sad because it was our last dinner with Cathy and we all gave our warmest regards to all of her hard work and help with our studies as well as becoming a dear friend to all of us. Alas, though our trip is far from over, it seems that so much time as already passed and it feels like it has been a lifetime for us all during our time here and already much has happened. Nevertheless, there is still plenty more to do and see, and we are looking forward to whatever comes next like always.

Week 2! Getting in the swing of things by Kenzie Schoenthaler

On the 28th, we started classes (a ‘standard weekday’ scheduling-wise) with a Malagasy lesson with Franck and an introduction to research methods to prepare for our independent research projects. We also visited Ranomafana again and visited the Mayor’s office, the Ranomafana National Park’s office, and the local office of PIVOT, a healthcare NGO doing groundbreaking work in this district in partnership with CVB and Partners in Health. We finished up the day with a night hike along the road, and we saw our first lemurs! They were tiny, agile brown mouse lemurs, which are nocturnal omnivores found essentially only in and around Ranomafana National Park.

Chameleon

Sleeping chameleon

We also saw about a dozen sleeping chameleons, which are incredibly hard to spot, and ranged from about 2 to 12 inches long, as well as some bats (we think) and tons of huge spiders, including Darwin’s bark spiders, a type of orb weaver, whose silk is the strongest biological material known to man, twice as strong as any other spider’s silk.

 On the 29th, we had several lectures, including on entomology and aquatic invertebrates. We went to local streams (one near a village and one deep in the forest) and, knee-deep in the stream, sampled invertebrates and spent hours trying to identify them—quite a process.

Aquatic invertebrate sampling

Aquatic invertebrate sampling

We finished with talks by graduate students on a pilot study by Stony Brook and CVB to investigate the use of large drones to access inaccessible and remote villages to deliver medicines and transport samples to CVB’s lab to diagnose TB. Some of these villages are multiple days’ walk away from any town—it is very difficult to describe exactly how inaccessible some parts of this country are.

 On the 30th we started our day really early with mist-netting birds and an exciting morning hike in RNP. We caught one bird only, a Nelicourvi Weaver, a beautiful emerald green female. We banded and released it. Later, we had our first primatology lecture, which was on primates as a whole but also focused on lemurs, and prepared us for the following day. The next morning, we spent about 8 hours in the forest observing primate behavior. In practice, this meant following lemurs through the rainforest as best as possible– whether or not there was a trail, and straight up and down steep slopes through dense undergrowth– and recording what they did. We saw three (!) species of lemur: two Milne-Edwards’ Sifaka sitting in a tree, 5 Golden Bamboo Lemurs, and six Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs. Really amazing to see them in their natural habitat. The Goldens in particular seemed to just go about their business without a care about us at all, which was cool to observe.

 On the first of June, we had a few very informative lectures/discussions: one on TEAM (Tropical Ecology and Assessment Monitoring Network), one on PEM (Participatory Ecological Monitoring), and lastly on a local reforestation project. TEAM and PEM are seeking to understand the ecology and climate of the local area better to better guide conservation decisions, as well as involve locals in conservation efforts, such as the reforestation project. We helped out by having a contest between two groups of our students to see who could fill the most seed buckets the fastest– Team Mel won, which included both of us. As a reward, we received a bag of real American candy, a true treasure here. We finished up the day with setting up camera traps in the woods and seeing the Greater Bamboo lemur. The two that we saw are actually the last two in all of RNP, a nonbreeding pair, and the worldwide population is in the low hundreds. A few years ago, more Greater Bamboo lemurs were reintroduced into the park and they briefly socialized with the resident pair, but disappeared and almost certainly died soon afterwards without breeding. Seeing them was certainly bittersweet.

The next day, Saturday, we started our day off driving to Sahavodronina village to visit the women’s weaving association there. They were excited to receive us and we got along well with everyone there, and got the chance to hand weave our own baskets! We have no classes on Saturday, which is a welcome break. We went kayaking down the Ranomafana river, in inflatable boats, which was a lot of fun despite capsizings and persistent rain. Just the right amount went wrong. And we returned with everyone we left with!

Kayaking

We came, kayaked, capsized but all returned back to CVB!

Lastly, on Sunday, we hiked down to Ranomafana, which is usually about a 45 minute walk via the paved road, but this time we went through the forest and over the mountains. It was long, muddy, and exhilarating, and overall a blast. But. Madagascar has leeches. Lots and lots of them. And they are on the ground and in the water, but most are found on leaves and trees, and they will literally shower down on you in dozens and hundreds when it’s raining. Personally I flicked dozens if not over a hundred off me, and only had one or two actually bite me, but a few of us had over 25 bites, and were bleeding down their leg worse than Curt Schilling. It was quite the view once we broke out of the trees, though. We spent a few hours in Ranomafana (one of which was spent removing leeches and taking off soaked clothes), then went to Ambodiaviavy village to participate in a ceremony with the two ‘kings’ of the village.