Volunteer blog: Christina Lim

The butterflies in Madagascar need to get more attention than they are receiving!  And that is what I’ve learnt after a few days in Madagascar. These local beauties are more than just a pretty face. With more than 70% of the butterfly species endemic, their mere existence and conservation is very important. Also, scientifically, their survival is highly dependent on the natural environment. Thus any observable changes in their abundance provide quick and reliable indications of climatic changes in the region.

Of course the lemurs, reptiles and marine critters of Madagascar are of no less importance, but with so little study and researches on butterflies being conducted, I felt compelled to start a David-Attenborough-conservation-type project on these pretties on my own.

So my quest begins; with good intentions and butterfly nets, the butterfly research team embark on scientific expeditions to the research sites to search for these butterflies. Ok, really these sites are just 10-15 mins walk from base, and once there, we just try to catch as many of these beautiful buggers as we can in a 1 hour time frame. Not as glamorous as it looks or sounds, but once we have identified them, collected the data and set them free, we know that that individual butterfly have just contributed to what could potentially be the most important butterfly study in the history of butterfly studies in Madagascar.

I have high expectations for these fluttering beauties. Understanding them more will give fresh, first-hand insights to this highly understudied part of Madagascan ecology, as well as help track important environmental changes in Madagascar. The phrase about the wind from a butterfly’s wings becoming a tornado does have credence to it. Not to say that butterflies are responsible for natural disasters, but that more studies (like mine) on them should be done as each and every one of them does have an impact and makes a difference in this world, other than adding to the beauty of the natural paradise of Madagascar.

By Christina Lim, Volunteer Forest Research Assistant

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


Assistsant Research Officer blog: My first steak night

Steak night happens every Thursday night as long as there aren’t too many people. I arrived on a Monday so I got to experience the coveted rice and beans for a few meals before I witnessed the glory of steak night. As it turns out, I’m a vegetarian, but luckily enough that does not take away from the experience. Starting from the moment everyone is up in the morning there is a different feeling around camp, everyone seems to wake up excited and chant “STEAK NIGHT” throughout the entire day.

This adds to the hype and keeps people extremely motivated during the day, just so they can get to the evening when the best few hours of your life begin. Preparation and cooking takes a few hours with multiple tastings, interjected with the sporadic yelling of STEAK NIGHT and VEGETARIAN FUN. With only two vegetarians on camp we got to choose what to have and went with omelets that mostly turned into a sort of scramble and, with the addition of hot sauce, was delicious. I presume the steak was good too, I honestly have no idea but from what I’ve heard it was pretty good.

What I have learned and what you should take from this is that steak night is not actually about the steak (well it is for most people but whatever), it is about the enthusiastic and excited feeling that lingers around camp all day. It is a great event to look forward to throughout the week and the joyous attitude then carries over to the weekend. So even though I remain a vegetarian for now, I look forward to the next steak night to share a beautiful bonding moment over meat with all my new best friends.

By Maren Toor, Marine Assitant Reasearch Officer 

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


Volunteer blog: Will Kempton

Prior to my departure, every person who I told of my travels to a small Island of the North West coast of Madagascar for two months instantly asked “Why Madagascar?” My reasoning was the amazing marine life – of course, as it is my ambition to do Marine Science at University. I also chose this Frontier project to gain some perspective on marine research being done in the field, and where this course will lead me in the future, as I had grown uncertain of my course decision. However my first day in Nosy Be consisted of a walk through a small port, its water blackened so that you couldn’t see your feet in 10 centimetres of ‘water’. Naturally, this concerned me as I had come to Madagascar in order to survey and help conserve the coral reefs. We reached the boat and began to, slowly, make our way to camp. The water turned crystal blue as we passed Lakobe, a dive site we commonly survey, causing all my concern to melt away.

Now, after eight weeks of diving Madagascar’s beautiful reefs, surveying fish, coral and invertebrate species and having the time of my life while doing it has given me confidence in my choice to do Marine Science. After one particular dive I was absolutely certain I saw a different species of fish other than the ones which we survey so I ran, yes ran, to the Marine PI, Lisa, and ‘asked’ her “I’m 100% sure I saw this fish, can I add it to the survey sheet?” She accepted, which lead to a break out of my ‘inner nerd’. I then preceded to fish through fish books and discovered an adjustment we could make to the way we identify Indian Tobys. It was at this moment that I recognised how excited I was getting over this small discovery, leading me to realise that this is what I want to do with my life.

By Will Kempton, volunteer marine research assistant

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


ARO Blog: Jessie Panazzolo

Nobody Nose, man.

One day, after a week of being on camp, I decided it was time for me to take my first ever walk alone without another staff member. “Can I please take this walk by myself? It’s just to site 10 and I think I know the way” I asked Emily. Reluctantly she let me go, concerned that a week was too short a time for me to have memorised the sites. Emma and Stu, my RAs followed me into the forest, not so much as trusting my directional skills but helping me out where possible to get me where I needed to go, and I needed to find some lemurs. I was really nervous about getting them back to camp safely, let alone with an awesome lemur experience behind them, when suddenly half way into the forest, there was a small troop of black and brown furry balls of goodness. As it was mango season and lots of sugary treats were abundant in the trees, the lemurs were so close to us in the lower canopy and we all stood there with our mouths open looking into the tree. We were in awe at how close the lemurs were and also how active they were. They were so close I could even notice that one lemur’s face was vastly different to the others with some kind of deformity which we thought was a nose tumour and thus dubbed him Nose Man.  With further photographic inspection we could see that this adult male did in fact not have a nose tumour but instead a broken jaw or something of the like with his tongue lolling out. Despite the obvious face malfunction, this man was the most chilled out dude in the whole population and he seemed respected by the entire troop.

We left the survey feeling elated that my first walk went so well and we ran to Emily back at camp to tell her how well it went and to tell her all about Nose Man and his troop. I was hooked; I returned to site 10 the next week to visit Nose Man again and I stopped in my tracks to find that Nose Man had the sexiest male alive in his troop. ‘Sexy man’ instantly took my breath away with his silver eye rings and adorable ear tufts and when I got back to camp to show everyone pictures of him I swooned again at my laptop screen: I was in love. Before long, everyone knew of Nose Man and got really excited whenever they saw him. One of my most heart-warming moments was when I got to the troop and Mimi, one of my RA’s yelled out “OH MY GOD!! IT’S NOSE MAN!!!” and I was so happy that people loved this troop as much as I did. Just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, on a beautiful day to site 10 we saw my favourite troop once again and there was the most beautiful sub adult female I had ever laid eyes on. She was playing with her friends and then she stopped for a moment to groom herself with her tail over her head like a fuzzy angel of beauty and cuteness and I think everyone saw me just die inside as ‘Hot Girl’ was being discovered for the first time.

My god, Nose Man has the best looking troop in the whole world and also the most loved troop. As new people came and other staff went out, people would come into camp and tell me they saw Nose Man and his troop and I would be so happy because they were quickly becoming the most exciting thing to see on a walk and that something that was so important to me was almost as important to everyone else. To walk in on people having a discussion about Nose Man, was one of the best feelings and to see him sitting on two branches with his legs out like he was relaxing and about to open a newspaper made me love him even more.

Sadly, as mango season ended I didn’t know how little I would see him from then on and in fact I haven’t seen him in months, and I miss that troop. I never got to know any population as well as his and I miss watching the babies grow to sub adults and the sub adults grow into adults and everything they learnt along the way. So here is a tribute on my last week on camp to the best and most good looking troop of Black Lemur in the whole of Madagascar. Nose Man and your clan; I hope you’re just as loved next time mango season comes around!

By Jessie Panazzolo, Terrestrial Assistant Research Officer

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.


CA Blog: Timothy Schwinghammer

The eight legged race.

Before coming to Nosey Be, Madagascar I was very interested in spiders but had only ever done private studies. Now I find myself collecting data and working on an advanced BTEC diploma based around a project of my design. My project is studying the diversity and distribution of arachnids in the different habitats found on the frontier research sites.

I have currently found a large variety of exciting range of spiders and even some cool scorpions. To do this I have been going on active searches to degraded, secondary and primary forests on both day and night walks. I have also been installing pitfalls to target scorpions and ground roaming spiders.
Some of my favourite arachnids that I have found so far include:

The jumping spiders (family Salticidae) they are attractive, playful spiders that seem to pose for the camera allowing for great face shots.

The net-casting spiders (family Deihopidae) who instead of building a traditional web and waiting for pray to get stuck will hold a small net like web between its first two legs and will throw it onto unsuspecting invertebrates like a gladiator in the Colosseum.  

Every day in camp I can find golden orb spiders (family Araneidae) these big beauties like to set their large webs high up with their silk shining gold if the light hits it right.

The kite spider (subfamily Gasteracanthitnae) with two large spikes sticking out each side of its abdomen predators think twice before plucking these guys out of their webs.

One of the harder spiders to spot is the bird drop-dropping spiders (subfamily Araneinae) because as their name sounds they look just like bird droppings, which makes it cool and disgusting all at the same time.

It is not just spiders that I have surveyed I have seen scorpions and caught one in a pitfall trap allowing me to safely have a close look and examine its pincers and stinger.

I still have a lot of walks to do and more pitfalls to install so I am very excited to see what I find and catch.

By, Timothy Schwinghammer, Conservation Apprentice

Find out more about Frontier's volunteering projects in Madagascar.