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Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in Blog

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Published on July 18, 2011 with No Comments

‘Bonjour! Ready?” Jimmy said with a thick French accent, displaying a big smile. It was 7:15am and he was ready to go.

Oui, s’il vous plait!” I replied.

Since my bungalow was in the middle of the forest, I was expecting (and hoping) to listen to the famous calls of the Indris at sunrise and woke up with it. However, it was a very quiet night in the wilderness. It was time to get deeper into the forest to look for the indris.

But Mami #3 (the kind man who had gone in the kayak to look for lemurs the day before) had told Jimmy to take me back to the Lemur’s island before going to see the Indris. Mami #3 said in the morning I was going to be able to see more lemurs’ species than what we did at sunset.

Hard work

So, Jimmy and I drove to the entrance of the Lemur’s island, where we met a guide from the reserve. I was the first visitor to arrive.

We jumped in the kayak, but instead of going around the lake, we just crossed from the shore of mainland to the shore of the island. It didn’t event take a minute. I couldn’t believe I was rowing and rowing the day before looking for lemurs when they actually where at the other side of the lake!

Fighting for my love?

“Where are you from?” the guide asked while we walked into the island’s forest.

“Venezuela,” I replied.

“Is that America?”


“No, it is South America. You know Brazil, Argentina? Just around there,” I said.

“I never have someone here from Venezuela,” the man looked surprised.

As soon as the lemurs saw him, they rushed from the trees and jumped all over us.

“Wow, this is a welcome!” I said.

Tough grooming or working on a hairdo?

One of the brown lemurs used my arm as if it was the branch of a tree; another was grooming my hair (almost biting it), making a mess or an exotic hairdo. A small lemur smelled me and put his tiny cold hands in my forehead for balance and support.

“They are really friendly,” I had gone very close to lemurs, but this was way closer. This was intimate contact!

“They are rescued pets. They used to be pets. They cannot be in the wild because they will die,” explained the guide.

Suddenly two beauties joined us: a White-and-Black Ruffed lemur and a Diademed sifaka. They were big and furry and absolutely majestic!!!

The White-and-Black Ruffed Lemur

Suddenly, the panda bear look alike lemur jumped in my arm. He was heavy but completely relaxed. The brown lemurs were jumping from tree to tree over us, and playing (or fighting) with the Diademed Sifaka, who looked annoyed by the energetic and playful lemurs.

The Black-and-White ruffed lemur jumped to a tree, while a brown lemur –who hadn’t move from my shoulder since my arrival- stood steady as I walked to see the sifaka.

The Sifaka dances for the backpacker!

And then, I got my very private lemur performance. The Diademed sifaka went down from the tree to the ground, doing a two-legged sideways hop that looked like a ballerina dance!

The diademed sifaka is without any doubt my favorite.  They were so weird looking but so absolutely beautiful animals. As it stood on the ground, I could see how large it was.

 “Do people have these as a pet?” I asked the guide.

“Yes,” he replied.

“These can’t be put back in the wild? It is sad they are alone here in the island!”  I said.

Diademed Sifaka

“No, they won’t probably survive. They would be attacked and won’t know what to do,” he replied.

At that point, I had mixed feelings. I was happy to have such a close look and intimate contact with the “affectionate” brown lemurs, the rare White-and-Black ruffed lemur and the gorgeous and gracious Diademed sifaka. It was certainly a beautiful experience. However, just across that lake, White-and-Black ruffed lemurs and Diademed Sifakas roamed freely in the wild and with others of their kind. At least the brown and the bamboo lemurs in the island lived there in large groups, but the White-and-Black ruffed lemur and the Diademed Sifaka were alone and separated from their own kinds.

“Maybe I should go now,” I said to the guide, who took me back to Jimmy.

I was looking forward to meeting the Indris!!!

My favorite lemur: Diademed Sifaka!

“Hola Etienne!” Jimmy and I met Etienne at the entrance of the Reserve Speciale d’ Analamazoatra, another area of the Parc National D’Andasibe which covers over 12,000 hectares. 60 families of Indris live in here.

“I hope we can see two families of Indris and other lemurs,” said Etienne.

Jimmy stayed in the entrance and Etienne and I walked into the park. Eucalyptus trees decorated each side of the dirt road at the beginning of the trek. We passed a lake and then saw the path dividing in different routes.

“We take this one,” said Etienne.

Etienne and I went into the forest, surrounded by thick vegetation. It was primary forest just like the one we explored the day before. The wildlife was slightly different though. 

“So tell me about the Indris, Etienne,” I asked Etienne while we searched for the lemurs.

“Here, they are called the “Babakoto”. It is one of the largest living lemurs. They are sacred for Malagasy people. It cannot be hunted or harmed. It is fady to eat them,” explained Etienne. “There are some legends, you see.”

“Babakoto” means the “Father of Koto.”

Etienne’s English was good, but to tell me these stories, he quickly switched to French and told me about them while we explored the forest.

It is said that a little boy named Koto went to the forest to search honey. He climbed to the canopy and was stung by bees. He fell from a tree, but an indri caught him and saved him.

Another legend says a boy got lost in the forest and didn’t return. His father was worried and went to look for his son but never came back. When neither the son nor the father came back, the villagers went to seek for them, but found two Indri lemurs instead. They believed the boy and the father transformed into Indri, and that the wailing of this lemur is just a mournful cry of the father for his missing son.

The Indri Lemur

At that point, Etienne and I had walked for over an hour and no Indri lemurs were around.

“This is rare. Stay here please,” Etienne walked into the deep vegetation making some strange noises.

I stood alone and mesmerized by the greenery and the silent surrounded me. It was wild and beautiful. While Etienne spotted the lemurs, I turned on the camera to film some intros for Diaries’ video reports.

“This is the home of…” I was interrupted by a loud roar coming from deep in the forest.

I stopped filming myself and pointed at the canopy. It had to be the Indri lemurs!

I saw nothing in the trees. No movement. I only heard a mournful wailing, and it was both strange and fascinating!

“Come. Run, follow me,” said Etienne.

I run with the camera on, ready to meet face to face with the famous Indri. The closer we were to them, the louder the cry was.

“Up there!” said Etienne.

Sunbathing high in the canopy

A group of Indri hanged out high in the canopy, “communicating” with others. It sounded like a Placido Doming gone wild. Maybe someone in deep, deep pain. It is a sound hard to describe. It was unbelievable that such sound could come out of the tiny month of such beautiful animal.

The Indri lemurs are white and black just as the White-and-Black ruffed lemurs, but have a short tail. Their black faces are framed by fuzzy ears. Their silky fur with black and white patches made them look like a teddy bear.

I moved just under one of them trying to get a better look. They were so up high in the canopy and the counter light was so strong, I was looking for the best spot to see and hear them.

Some sort of a rain came down from the trees. It wasn’t rain, it was pee!

“I think the Indri just peed on me,” I told Etienne.

“That’s good luck. Blessing,” he replied.

“If you say so,” I kept on filming and felt… blessed!

Some calls were very short, others long. Sometimes it was solo performance. Other times it was a choir with one of the members hitting a really, really high note. 

“Daniela, they have three instinct sounds. They have a call for communication, for alarm and for mating. The mating call is like a kiss sound. Muac,” Etienne imitated how it sounded like. “Let’s look for the other family,” he suggested.

We walked and hiked around the park, encountering a few other tourists, some grey bamboo lemurs and red-fronted lemurs, but the Indri were shy today.

Etienne seemed worried about not finding them while in the meantime I was just happy to be back in the forest, exploring… with or without the Indris on sight.

School teacher's High fashion in the forest!

We heard some loud voices. I thought it was probably a large group of tourists, but instead we met a large group of young Malagasy students who had come to the park as part of a school road trip.

“We are trying to teach children the importance of biodiversity,” said Etienne.

The Indri is an endangered species, mostly because its habitat is threaten by destruction and the slash and burn agriculture, which happens even in protected areas. The Indri is also a lemur that does not survive in captivity.

Etienne and I joined the kids, who were loud because they had spotted the Indri lemurs in the canopy. They were quiet but they were jumping from tree to tree showing their long bodies and skilled hops. Two Indri lemurs came down from the top of the trees and we saw them closer.

Close look at the Indri

And just as they came to show their beauty, they disappeared once again in the forest. Etienne and I had spent four and a half hours exploring the park. Within 24 hours, I had explored two distinct areas of Andisabe National park. I had seen different species of lemurs I hadn’t seen during my 10 days trip across Madagascar. I had an intimate encounter with these strange looking but stunning creatures.  And I had made it to where the Indri lemurs lived to experience and listen to their unique roar and exotic beauty before going back home.

It was time for Jimmy and I to go back to civilization… it was time to return to Antananarivo.

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