Tuesday
Jul292014

Volunteer Blog: Rachel Curren

Hearing the news about Komba has filled the entire forest team with excitement. Everyone is busy preparing for the adventurous week ahead, stocking up on snacks (chocolate is a must of course) and ensuring the essentials are all in check. The opportunity to survey in unchartered territory is a privilege. It’s like taking on a real adventure into the unknown. The potential of discovering a new endemic species adds to the thrill of this.


Anything is possible in Madagascar! Even today, on a Lokobe adventure tour where we did an epic beach clean and snorkelled the reefs; surrounded by an astounding variety of fish and crustacean species, and even the occasional turtle and a pod of dolphins, much to our joy!  On the fringes of Lokobe national park we came across a curious specimen; a potential new species of legless lizard which we are still identifying. The anticipated excitement is unbearable!

Anyway back on the Komba track – having briefly visited the island once before, it allowed us to truly understand the stark contrast between being a tourist and a traveller. It will be intriguing to see how the level of tourism in Komba has affected the local and native species of the area. Komba is most commonly known by tourists for its unique fashion (Komba pants and shit shirts for the win) and its lemur park, however working in conservation highlights the different emotions associated with seeing a lemur troop in the wild (the feeling can’t be summed up in words) in comparison to a human habituated lemur being hand fed bananas for the pleasure of tourists and ‘cool’ photographs.

So the majority of our week ahead will be spent living it rough, true forester style, in a monastery with a lack of shower and basic luxuries found back at camp (yes I agree, we are going to smell delightful!) Body odours aside, it will be one of the best experiences of our lives, trekking the high hills, the forests and searching for new species, who knows what could happen, like we said... anything is possible in Madagascar!

By Rachel Curren, Assitant Research Volunteer

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

Tuesday
Jul222014

Volunteer blog: Alfie Sheridan and Harry Gray

Crazy Awesome Nightwalk

Four intrepid explorers. One awesome nightwalk. What follows is a tale of high adventure, bizarre creatures and daring-do.

Stumbling through the dark we make it the whole of 50m before we are set upon by a pair of ferocious Mouse Lemurs; their luminous eyes piercing the gloom. Led by our courageous guide (Rich), we battle our way through brush and briar down a path, and into the jungle. One particular female Souimanga Sunbird was so startled by our sudden appearance that she froze like a small, green, feathered rabbit in our torch light, no doubt having just settled for a peaceful night in. Alas, no such rest for us... further adventure awaited!

Not five minutes later, Cynthia’s sharp eyes (and sharper camera) picked out a juvenile Uroplatus ebenaui curled up, pretending to be a leaf. Its dragon-like head, in an odd juxtaposition with its rather puny tail; but an adorable specimen nonetheless. Almost invisible on its branch, this was a rare and miraculous find.

Of the three lemur species on Nosy Be, two are nocturnal. Having only just recovered from our encounter with the Mouse Lemurs we are struck by the fearsome cuddliness of a Hawk’s Sportive Lemur, not 3 feet from our path. Sleepy and somewhat unimpressed, he viewed us with mild dismay, before trundling off into the shadows. However, just when we thought the night had run out of surprises, the piece-de-resistance was pulled out of the hat.

On our way back to camp the brilliant red and white chest and dagger-like bill of a Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher was illuminated roosting just above our heads. Although normally only seen as a flash of crimson, this particular individual sat calmly, allowing us to admire his dinky, yet regal shape. This was truly the cherry on a well-iced cake.

Finally, it was time for a night-time shower under the stars, watched by a worryingly voyeurific Crested Drongo.

By Alfie Sheridan and Harry Gray, terrestrial volunteer research assistants

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

Wednesday
Jul162014

Volunteer Blog: Ryan Penney

Off the plane at Tana and darkness befell us much the same way the shady Victorian tax man stalks the cobbled streets of 18th century London in search of unpaid debts, only to finally ensnare his victim when most vulnerable. So yeah, it was the cold hard marble floor of Tana airport with everyone having no such raiment suitable for what was to be a mentally, spiritually and physically bleak and draining night. Spirits were kindled upon the revealing of playing cards, & the night soon seemed to pass with a new found haste, jack of clubs after jack of clubs.

Morning, and we made for Nosy-Be on the wings of anticipation. A pretty awesome array of colourfully clad locals were a like a sweet medicine after the previous night. And so, stepping out of the airport Madagascar planted it's seed of great vibes within, from there on which it grew with every new place travelled to.

To Hellville, and contrary to preconceived ideas conjured by the name, Hellville was an explosion of just awesome quintessential African madness man. Arrival to camp and I found the great vibes of Madagascar to be embodied within one man, Victor. Genuinely one of the most awesome dudes you'll ever meet.

Cracking on with diving and into the underwater world. The reefs appearing like a sub-merged prize winning garden at the Chelsea flower show man. Porifera, echinoderms and arthropods … it's all there. It was also a pretty sweet chance to see the guys id been studying in my Ocean Science degree in real life. Even better I was able to do some research on sea cukes for my dissertation which was super cool.

By Ryan Penney, Volunteer Research Assistant

Wednesday
Jul162014

Volunteer Blog: Frances warry - A Day in the Life of a Lemur

As I was chilling in a tree one day, I spotted 5 beings stalking through the undergrowth. I watched as they crept ‘quietly’ – thinking we couldn’t see them - How dumb! “STOMP STOMP”, “rustle rustle” – How can they think we can’t hear them?
Everything goes silent as they stand and stare; Creepy stares that slightly unnerve me. So I give them something to watch! A scramble up the tree trunk so I’m very nearly out of sight before flinging myself, arms first, at the nearest tree; Bouncing from one tree to another, all the while staying vigilant, and watching my observers. I watch as their eyes follow me across the canopy, whilst their bodies daren’t move in fear of scaring us away. Oh! The power we have!
My troupe follows close behind as we terrorize the birds by flailing the trees. For a moment we pause, taking in the stunning Sambirano forest I inhabit. Movement below snaps my attention back to the beings; they tracked my path on the ground peering through the low leaves to catch a glimpse of my troupe.
My partner in crime clings to me like Velcro, much to the amusement of our ‘followers’. The rest of my group moves closer, slowly surrounding me and my partner. I can only imagine what we look like – a bit like a giant ball of fluff, I’d say! A Lemur Ball!
My observers eye catches mine as it turns and makes its way back out of the forest. Peace is restored in the forest once more as I close my eyes and soak up the warmth from our cuddly ball of lemur.

By Frances Warry, Volunteer Research Assistant

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

Tuesday
Jul152014

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.