Daubentonia madagascariensis | Aye-aye

 

Good Spot: "Aye-aye Isle", Mananara, Madagascar

Primatology

 

Taxonomy

Daubentonia madagascariensis is a monotypic species (no subspecies).

 

Occurrence

Madagascar

 

Conservation Status

Near Threatened

 

© Adam Hermans

Aye-Aye Isle, Madagascar

Seeing this Species

 

Searching for a Shadow

 

The Aye-aye is a primate but it looks more like the hybrid offspring of a skunk and a terrier. Add to that mess a beaver’s buck teeth, embers for eyes, and grizzled black fur like a brittle old broom. A conspicuously clawed skeletal middle finger and slightly humanoid face complete the nightmare creature.  The Aye-aye is so weird looking that the Malagasy have long killed them on sight. A resulting vital fear of people, along with its nocturnal, arboreal nature have rendered the aye-aye invisible. They are so elusive that biologists have long thought them critically endangered. Yet conservationists have instead recently discovered the Aye-aye to be adaptable and thus widespread. 

 

The Aye-aye functions as the Malagasy equivalent of a woodpecker. It listens to trees with its giant ears then uses the elongated finger to dig insects out. The key to the Aye-aye’s surprising success is that this claw can even bore a hole in rock-hard coconuts. As the great Eastern forest falls, palm plantations pop up in its wake. Most animals cannot adapt to sudden monoculture but with this trick the Aye-aye does. Omnivores, Aye-ayes now feed largely on coconut meat. Thus, palm plantations offer perhaps the best chance to find them.   

 

 

"Aye-aye Isle", Mananara, Madagascar     

There is no real road to Mananara. The 200 km route from Toamasina follows beaches and stream beds. For two nights and a day, 24 of us bounce in the bed of a pick-up. My Malagasy mate, Théo, and I alternate hanging off the back. Upon arrival we rest a day in Mananara, a port of sand streets inundated by markets. That evening we take a leaking dugout canoe to the island. The isle is a pastiche of palms and paddies. Forest and farm blend into an edible jungle. We munch on fruits whose names I did not know and do not remember. Vanilla perfumes the air. A few farmers reside on the island, sucking lychees, catching chameleons, and living with the lemurs. We join in. At dusk the gardeners go wait by suspected sleeping spots while Théo and I search. An hour passes, then another. Suddenly- “AIAY!  AIAY!” We all race through the bush to a gardener slamming a grunting tree trunk. Théo grunts back (he can imitate almost every Malagasy bird and lemur).   A returned grunt confirms Théo’s suspicion- brown lemurs.  Blast!  We continue to hunt but soon it begins to rain. The Aye-aye does not like to get wet (or so they tell me). We return home and I find myself unusually upset.

           

The next day Théo and I mount an expedition. We buy flashlights for everyone and extra batteries.  We buy cookies for the kids and celebratory rum for the gardeners. I post a 10 000 Airary reward (a significant sum, six dollars) for whomever spots the Aye-aye first. We accept an offer to stay the night.  We arrive and spend the afternoon looking for evidence: pierced coconuts.  We find one then return to the huts and wait.  While we were gone, the gardeners found the rum and are now drunk.  Worrying, I wander off for sunset and discover lesser bamboo lemurs feasting on bamboo. I hide amongst some palms. With fronds framing my shot, the sky turns purple, a crescent moon rises, and  I have possibly the best scene I've ever filmed. The moment brings me both peace and elation. I have to understand why I make each of these trips and for that instant it is clear.  

           

I return and join in a dinner of rice, leaves and tenrec. Just as we’re finishing up we hear a yelp. We sprint to a proudly pointing man then slash the canopy with our beams.  One eager, energetic, and drunk gardener climbs a tree, flashlight gripped in his teeth. The night hums in our excitement. Then Théo spots the aye-aye and eight beams swoop. We stumble through the brush. Wielding a cumbersome tripod I take any and every advantage to garner seconds of footage. For a moment we chase but it’s quick and we’re annoying. We soon leave it be, but in that quick chaos I glimpsed a creature odder than I could ever imagine.

 

Probability of Success: ◆ ◆ ◇ ◇ ◇

 

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© Adam Hermans

Aye-aye Isle, Madagascar

© Adam Hermans

Aye-aye Isle, Madagascar

Page Last Updated: 4 June 2015

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