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.


Volunteer blog: Bea Johnston

The Hazards of Snacking in Madagascar

In Western society we think nothing of it. The concept of 'The Snack' was developed as a simpler alternative to a full meal. A meal takes time, preparation and effort. A Snack is a quick-fix for hunger. They are also more readily available than a full meal and can be purchased from the nearest shop at your convenience. Beverage-snacks can also be made in minutes, hot water boiled with the press of a button.

From arriving in Madagascar I have finally appreciated the extent to which we take snacking for granted, for at the Frontier camp in Nosy Be the act of snacking carries with it many difficulties of its own.

Condiments become rare commodities which must be protected from the other volunteers with a vicious resolve. The 'no name and it's fair game' philosophy has managed to catch out many a wannabe snacker. When a care package arrives at camp they inevitably contain a veritable treasure-trove of foods that are necessary to survival, for the Australians-Vegemite, for the English-Marmite, which will once again spark the epic debate of which one is truly tastier, with both sides refusing to concede.

Although snacks can be bought on camp, it is an arduous affair, a quest undertaken to find the much sought-after snack box key. Once the key is found the journey has yet to end. The snack box itself must be tackled, the lid prized open and one open is even harder to properly close. There is also a stark contrast between what one will find in the box depending on the time of the week. On a Monday (post re.-supply) you are spoilt for choice. On a Sunday the box is a barren wasteland of disappointment, where one might be lucky to find a dusty lollipop or lemon-flavoured Frego's.

The noodles that can also be purchased at camp make a mockery of the buyer by advertising a '3-minute preparation time'. If only the noodles here did not work on Madagascan time. The direction 'just add water' seems simple, or it would be where it not necessary to make your own fire from scratch. One you’ve managed to cajole the flames into existence you still need to fill the kettle which may or may not open depending on how it feels. Then you must tend to the fire as the kettle boils, lest it die. Thus this '3-minute affair' turns into an extended task that is not undertaken lightly.

Despite the many obstacles that separate you and your snack, the end result is far sweeter than one that is simply handed to you. The very fact that in this extraordinary place, miles from home, people carry Marmite here with them and thus a small taste of home is added to the experience you have here. Despite the difficulties posed by the odd snack-indulgence, there is something very satisfying about making your own fire the same way as the neighbouring villages and truly living the Madagascan snacking lifestyle.

By Bea Johnston, research assistant volunteer

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


Volunteer blog: Oliver Bramley

Bass throbs through your chest. High notes scream and crackle in your ears. Petrol fumes sting your skin and bury themselves in your lungs. Sweat drips down your back and face and stomach and legs. And you smile and cheer and clap because you are having the time of your life. The crowd thickly lines the streets and sometimes they cheer and that makes you turn, smile, grind your hips with a little more sass or spin a little quicker or punch the air with a little more vigour.  This was the Donia festival - a four day event held every year in Hell-ville.

Our journey to Donia started one inconsequential afternoon outside Victor and Vola’s house. A motley crew of Frontier staff and volunteers assembled only to be quickly and firmly placed in, what many would describe as, military formation. And then we began the drill. The Malagasy anthem “Call Me Maybe” trickles out of a tiny speaker and the Frontier feet move, they step and they misstep and they trip and they become out of time. The front row of locals move in perfect harmony and still Frontier feet and arms and hands move and clap and spin with little rhythm or knowledge or the moves they should perform.

“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it.    
“Again.” Victor shouts from his perch.
So we repeat it – again.

This process repeats its self again over several nights, sometimes it’s dark and we can barely see our Malagasy leaders. But surely, if not a little slowly, the Frontier dance troop begins to find unity. The fist-pumping in our second song “Titanium” synchronise. We are transformed what once was a caterpillar has become a dance butterfly; we open are wings rich in colour and pattern. We are ready to soar.

The day finally arrives and excitement quicksteps through camp. Dance troop Frontier makes their way to Vola’s for preparation and food. We strip a forests worth of palm leaves to make skirts and have our faces painted. As promptly as it’s possible in Madagascar we made our way on to the boat and into town. Hellville hummed with party spirit, the streets oozing excitement. We passed through these streets, stuffed six to a tut-tut. “Malaklak Malaklak” we shouted as the driver weaved through traffic, down dirt back alleys. We screamed and laughed feeding off the energy that Hellville was radiating that day.

At exactly Malagasy 1 o’clock [2:30pm] the parade started. The Frontier dance troop followed our pick up through the streets. The music blared out from the speakers and we danced. The Frontier dance troop: volunteers, staff and locals danced through the streets of Hellville together united through movement. We shimmied, reached, wiggled, stepped and turned with the biggest smiles on our faces. Our throats were sore with singing along and our feet ached with the constant pounding of the road. But we didn’t care because we were having the time of our lives, feeding off the whoops and cheers of an amused crowd.

Three hours of hot, sweaty parading the Frontier troop arrived in the stadium ready to compete. But first we had to wait for all of the speeches to be made. Three hours later and somewhat fatigued, the Frontier dance troop made its way backstage. The act before us had fire dancers – we stood no chance of winning. However, winning didn’t matter only the dance mattered. Dancing “Call me Maybe” in front of a packed stadium of 7 thousand people - and we nailed it. All steps and claps and turns in perfect unison the stadium roared and the Frontier dance troop beamed back.

The village president took us aside after the performance to express his pride and with that the Frontier Dance troop disbanded. We may not ever dance together again but we will always have the moves.

By Oliver Bramley, marine volunteer research assistant

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