Newcastle University team on mission to study lemurs in Madagascar

A Newcastle University team has mounted an expedition to Madagascar to study endangered lemurs

The Newcastle University expedition team with forest guides
The Newcastle University expedition team with forest guides

The lemurs of Madagascar may be loveable but some species are endangered and face an unsure future.

Now a team from Newcastle University has mounted a mission to the forests of Madagascar to study five species of lemur and the habitat on which they depend.

It is hoped that the findings of the expedition by zoology and biology graduates will contribute towards future plans to help the lemurs and conserve their forest home.

On the expedition team were Rachel Blow, Jessica Fisher, Donna Wintersgill, Camilla Blasi Foglietti and Rachel Cornfoot.

They had to switch from their original destination because of the danger of bandit activity and made their base in the Tampolo forest, which is a mixture of palm and fir trees.

They camped for six weeks in the forest and set out to monitor five species of lemur.

By day they studied habitats and at night ventured into the forest to spot the nocturnal lemurs.

“We had a bucket shower and ate rice and beans,” said expedition leader Rachel Blow.

“We had rice for breakfast, and rice and beans for lunch and dinner.

“Lemurs are only found in Madagascar. They are lively, fun and loud and make weird noises around you when you are camping, but you get used to it.

“But it can still be daunting when they come close to the tent.”

The team also talked to local villagers about illegal logging.

Rachel said: “At first they thought we had come to arrest them and we had to reassure them.

“Most of the people we talked to had been told that the forest and the lemurs were protected.

“They liked the lemurs but the problem is that there is no alternative to logging.

“They want to help the forest and the lemurs but they need the wood to survive, for building their houses and selling for firewood.”

Funding for the expedition came from several sources including the Newcastle University Alumni Association, the Royal Geographical Society of London, and the Gilchrist Educational Trust.

Dr Peter Garson, guest lecturer in biology at Newcastle University, said: “This team have cut their expeditioning teeth very successfully in 2012, when three of them went to the US Virgin Island of St Thomas to study the status and human perceptions of the green iguana there.

“Already well-travelled, they clearly got the bug, and set about organising this research trip to Madagascar.

“Their energy and self-belief is to be wondered at, but so is their developing professionalism in all their preparations.

“These are truly gifted people who are doing great credit to Newcastle University.”

Rachel said the iguana expedition involved studying the creatures living on the island beaches and in the jungle.

“Some people like them and some people regard them as a pest,” she said. “In some tourist areas they will come right up to you because people feed them.”

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