The operatic and mournful Indri songs, akin to a whale’s vocals, punctuated by crackling of twigs under our footsteps, put us into a trance. Our walk through the rain forest was overwhelmed with the smell of bark, moss and leaves. If it were not for the trails, exploring the Mantadia National Park, Andasibe, Madagascar would be difficult. Thank God, it was not monsoon!
We came across a trio of diurnal Woolly lemurs. Like sloths, they were full of energy! Virginie said that they were a couple with their juvenile offspring. These brown unwashed teddies did raise our hopes of spotting an Indri.
Aina, our grumpy guide for the previous evening’s night walk into the National Park, had mysteriously fallen sick. It could be because she did not receive any tip. I was glad, because her knowledge of lemurs and English seemed rudimentary. We had met our new guide, Virginie in the morning. Looking us in the eye, she had flashed her brown teeth. “Manao Hoana”, she had greeted us in Malagasy.
“Indri!”, Virginie exclaimed, pointing towards the canopy of the forest. Some say that early guides had pointed at the lemurs and shouted, “Indry” or “there it is” and French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat mistook Indri to be the name of the largest lemur. That is how Babakoto was re-christened to Indri.
We looked up trying to peer through the dense foliage. These divas live on a specialised diet and cannot survive in captivity. So, we tried our best to capture them in our cameras.
As I watched their graceful movements from tree to tree, I thought of the previous afternoon when we had been to Vakona Lodge, Andasibe.
“Look !!” exclaimed my friend as our canoe reached the Lemur Island in Vakona Lodge. We both stared at a Diademed Sifaka, walking towards us on the railing of the bamboo pier. With its raised hands, it trotted towards us like an excited orang-utan. As of now, it was the solo welcome committee and its joy lay in banana pulp that the handler / boatman had for it.
Our canoe ride was excruciatingly some seconds long; it was across a few metres wide moat. The water kept rescued lemurs marooned on the island. As these lemurs had spent a chunk of their lives in human captivity, their re-introduction into the wild was not possible. Rainforest surrounds the Lemur Island. Hence, these animals are closest to their natural habitat.
The boatman gave us mashed banana as a treat for this black faced primate. I placed some of it on my palm and extended it to the Sifaka. I expected it to snatch it out of my hand; instead, it gently held the base of my wrist and licked the pulp. Its hands were as soft as a baby’s palms. Indeed, we were related!
In moments, a Black and White Ruffed Lemur, approached us. Our old friend nearly attacked it but then the boatman cum guide cum handler separated them.
Just a few more steps and we saw a group of curious Brown lemurs. No sooner had I crouched down with my camera for a shot than three lemurs climbed up on my back. Their curiosity and energy superseded even the cheekiest macaques. I got up and saw that Shannon,my photographer friend, had collected lemurs on his camera and shoulders.
They surely knew it that tourists meant food. The handler passed us ripe banana mash so that we could feed them. They were constantly making throaty grunts to solicit us for food. A dignified Bamboo lemur sat on the one of the trees. It was not as shameless as the Brown lemurs.
Soon we were out of treats and we lost our new best friends to fresh tourists, who had just crossed the moat. Et tu, Brute?
Back in Andasibe National Park, I felt glad to see the Indri Indri in its natural habitat. Their presence in the forest is important, even if it is for acoustic reasons. I did have an urge to pet these majestic sopranos. Too bad, I am only human!