This morning we were met by Patrick and Tony (our guide and driver, respectively) at the hotel and headed about 25 km west of Tana on RN 1 (Route Nationale 1 - part of the federal highway system) to Lemur’s Park - a private reserve that has nine lemur species (about 45 individual lemurs) that have free range in the reserve along a winding river. The river acts as a natural barrier along the majority of the reserve because although lemurs can swim if pressed, they really don’t like getting wet. The lemurs at the park are mostly animals that are being rehabilitated after having been taken away from people who had them illegally as pets.
We had a pleasant drive and got to see some of the countryside. We drove through an area, starting just outside of the city, where brick-making is a major portion of the local economy. As we drove along we saw people working along the banks of the rivers (and elsewhere) gathering the red clay and dirt for the bricks and then laying the formed bricks in drained rice paddies. Rice season is January to July, so the fields are not currently being used for rice. Once the clay is formed into brick sized shapes it is carefully organized in shed-sized structures several layers deep and roughly 15 to 20 bricks high. At the base of these brick piles, small tunnels are kept open (much like a brick pizza oven.) They then build fires in the center of these structures and tend the fire for 50 days to dry out and bake the bricks. Once the bricks are dry, they carry them to the side of the road - often on a small platform on their head with several towers of eight or so bricks high. In effect, the roadside becomes the wholesale showroom for the bricks. As they’re sold, most bricks are then loaded on a cart which is pulled by a team of Zebu (the local cattle) or by people to market.
We also saw many people working in the fields and women along the river banks washing and drying clothing, bedding and other cloth.
Once we arrived at Lemurs’ Park, Patrick turned us over to one of the English-speaking naturalists who took us on a tour through the grounds of the Park. Lemurs’ Park is a privately run preserve run by a French/Japanese foundation focused on education and helping preserve native Malagasy species, with an obvious focus on lemurs.
The thing that we didn’t really expect is how close we’d be able to get to the lemurs. Because they are all animals that had been previously (and illegally) kept as pets, they’re fairly used to people. Some of those who were at ground level let us get within a few steps of them and might have us let us touch them, though that of course is discouraged.
While there, we saw representatives of some 9 lemur species, all but two of which are diurnal and therefore roaming free on the grounds. The two nocturnal species (Grey Mouse Lemur and Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur) were kept in a darkened room inside so they could be seen during daylight hours. One of the