Friday, October 9, 2015


 I have seen many animals but none are as interesting as the lemurs found only in Madagascar.  They are listed as pro-simian primates, meaning that they evolved before the simians but are primates…go and figure. What is peculiar about them is their variety, more than 100 species; some are only nocturnal, live in families or by themselves, some are large and others the size of rats. They are threatened in their habitat due to deforestation and hunting both due to their main predator…man.  Their name in Greek and Roman antiquity was associated with death, wondering spirits and evil, probably because of their nocturnal habits, their ghostly cries penetrating gaze and Dracula-like upper canines.   

 Lemurs in the forest are difficult to photograph and almost impossible at night.   The use of a tripod is complicated due to the thick undergrowth and how fast they move.  By the time one is able to set up a tripod, they will be gone.  So I carried two cameras, one with a 400 and the other with a 70-200.  And to make things complicated one has to cross streams, climb hills, fight the leeches and deal with the rain.  It was work; one day spent 7 hours working in the forest.  Below is an Easter Gray Bamboo lemur that specializes in just eating the leaves of the bamboo tree.

On one occasion while walking in the forest, I took a break and sat down.  Then Red-fronted Brown lemurs appeared foraging on the ground and approached me.  It was a family of about twelve; they came by me, sat, watched me with their penetrating stare for a while, and kept going.  One of the lemurs started to bite the bark of a tree and fluid started to ooze and the animal started to lick.  They say that lemurs do not drink water and obtain it from the food they eat, mostly leaves and small berries.

 Before I forget, lemurs have a regular and a sub-lingual tongue.  The latter is below the larger one it is said that is used to clean their lower front thin teeth forming a dental comb.  Allegedly, they use the sub-lingual tongue to clean the teeth that they use to preen and clean their fur; any debris and hair accumulated is then flossed with sub-lingual tongue. They have 6 teeth, the 4 frontal ones as in humans and the other two are what would be equivalent to the lower canine teeth in us.  I was able to catch one of the above lemurs with an open mouth showing the dental comb.

I found the Verraux’s Sifaka lemurs the most interesting because of their behavior of bouncing sideways when moving on the ground.  They hop a few times, stop and then continue moving finally jumping into a tree.  They also jump from tree to tree covering long distances and always land sure-footed, or are it sure- handed, since the four extremities look like hands. They live in families and on one occasion, two families ran together and there was a battle, as they are territorial too.

 Females mostly take care of the young ones, and it is amazing how they hold to their moms and don’t fall off.  On occasion they climb off onto a nearby branch but the moment the mother moves, they jump aboard.  I had never seen a male monkey in Africa or in the Americas “carrying” a young one…usually the females and I thought the lemurs would behave the same.  Well, I photographed a male Verraux’s Sifaka Lemur taking one for a ride during his jumping sequence.

 The Ring-tailed lemurs are the other interesting group spending time on the ground but don’t dance but are very inquisitive and roam in families.  They are fond of tamarinds and I observed them on a tree going from fruit to fruit, squeezing with the hands and moving on if not ripe.  When a ripe tamarind was found they made a meal out of it, breaking the skin and eating the pulp.  

One behavioral characteristic of these lemurs (as well as others) is that they follow feeding and sleeping cycles during the day. They are susceptible to the cooling at night and associate in groups to share body heat when going to sleep.  One goes to a branch and holds to the trunk for stability and next other line up behind embracing the other from behind.  They usually become active in the morning generally around 9 AM when they feed until generally about 11AM when they go to rest.  Then activity starts again around 3 PM till around 5 PM when they start looking for a sleeping tree to spend the night; it appears that they go into torpor.  They also face the sun and assume what appears like a “Buddhist lotus” praying position and just seat enjoying the landscape.

The Diademed Sifaka Lemur has the most attractive coloration pattern and is also extremely friendly. By the way, they are just referred as sifakas due to the hiss sounds that they make.

This blog is getting too long so I am just going to upload images of other species of lemurs.  The last image is that of a foosa, also endemic to Madagascar and the top predator of lemurs.  It is rare and was to photograph one.

Collared Brown Lemurs.

 Bamboo Lemur.

Black and White Ruffed Lemur.

Red-tailed Sportive Lemur, mostly a nocturnal.

Fossa, the predator of the lemurs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fisherman's Island, Madagascar

I went to Madagascar looking for the lemurs, but I found the people of this island most interesting. Its real name is Betania and is separated from the city of Morondava by a river of the same name. The river empties into the Mozambique Channel that separates Madagascar from Africa.
 Boarded an outrigger to explore the mangroves but other than a few crabs, there was not much in the way of wildlife to see, so headed for Fisherman’s Island.  The people subsistence here is mostly fishing and some shipbuilding.  There were a few pigs but plenty of chickens in the island.  Fisherman’s Island is just like any other tropical island with the coconut groves and the fine yellow sand.  Being inhabited, the sign of such occupation is notable with the usual debris lying around, the homes made of wood and whatever other material is found.  But the people appeared happy and were friendly.

 One curios practice that I noticed while walking on the beach is all of a sudden I found myself stepping into large circles of death small fish laying the sand, so I back tracked.  I was told that the small fish are laid on the sand for drying by the sun as a mean of preservation.  Again…where are the birds?  In other parts of the world they would be eating the fish.

 After the men return from fishing early in the morning, the community goes to the beach to sort the fish and repair the fishing next to be ready for the next day.  The women participate in the processing of the fish to have it ready to marked and then take it to the market in Morondova. To get there, they have to cross the river, part of the river is waded and the point it gets deeper, they board boats to get across. The process is the same in the return trip and there are always customers waiting for the water taxis to make the crossing.

 People were not too excited about being photographed but I saw a group of young women looking at me and their faces said “photograph me”!!! I approached them and they were thrilled.  They paint their faces yellow but for a practical purpose:  To protect their faces against the sun.  They made their own cream by taking the bark of the tamarind fruits and grinding it to a fine powder than then is applied to the skin.

 I must thank Air Madagascar for this opportunity to visit the island due to a flight cancellation.  Flights are frequently cancelled (I suffered 3) and they may arrive early as well as late.  And if they arrive early, they will leave early, and not follow the scheduled departure time.  Air Madagascar is the biggest problem for the development of the tourist industry in this unusual and beautiful country.  In the plus side, they flight brand new planes and usually half empty.  After returning to Morondava, cell phone call was made to find the status of the Air Madagascar departing flight…I did leave this time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nansemond Indians Pow Wow

The Nansemond Indian Tribe’s Pow Wow took place 8/15-16/2015.  This is an annual event that takes place in Mattanock Town, the home of the tribe that is programmed to become the tribe’s tourist attraction in land formerly occupied by the Lone Star Lakes Park in Suffolk County.  It was recently ceded to the tribe as their ancestral lands and it covers about 70 acres.  This was the 27th annual Pow Wow and participants represent tribes from all over the country; some return yearly.  That is a reason for the variety of outfits seen at the reunion. 

The Nansemond Indian trace their ancestry back to the 1600’s and was part of the Powhatan confederacy that played a major role in the first encounter with the English colonizers in Jamestown.  The tribe did not fare well in their encounter with the colonizers who robbed their crops and destroyed their burial grounds and villages.  The tribe was recognized by the state of Virginia in 1984.

This celebration includes an opportunity for the members to show up in tribal regalia that are at times exuberant and colorful.  As you can see from the materials used, the outfits incorporate modern materials and free interpretation of original attires.  The women’s outfits are the most elaborate and are mostly designed and made by the users.  Considerable time and money, not to mention the pride of the users, have been spent on their designs.  Although there is not an open contest to identify a best outfit, it is obvious that one is present based on the participants eyeing the others outfits to prepare for the next year’s Pow Wow.  It is probable that these costumes may not be seen again next year.

Men’s attire is not as elaborate generally although some are at the level of complexity of those of the women.  They varied from just simple plain clothing to full chief and warrior regalia. Weapons are part of the men’s outfits in a variety of forms from tomahawks, to bow and arrows as well as fancy knives and shields, not to mention the rear turkey feather tails; these are worn by the most feared warriors and varied in size according to their war heroics.

 Dances are performed by tribal members of all ages and have different names such as slow, fast, chicken, war, women’s traditional dance and others.  All have in common dancing around in a circle accompanied by the monotonous drum beats and chants.  Some are extremely fast where the quality of the dancers is judged by their speed.  But regardless of the dance when it was over, the exhausted participants ran for a shady tent and a bottle of water and disposed of some of cumbersome outfits.

This Pow Wow takes place in August and I wonder why not in October in line with harvest of corn and other staples when the weather is cooler. Visitors will not have to seek the shade of a tree to add some comfort, and us photographers, will not have to deal with the harsh light conditions of a summer afternoon.