After a brief rest, we went to dinner where we met three other Mercy Ship volunteers – Annie from Australia, Jana from the UK, and Girannie who lives in New York. They have been in Tana since Saturday, so they have had time to explore the area a bit as well as acclimate to the time change. All are volunteering with Mercy Ships for the first time. We asked them what they had done in the meantime – particularly what we should see tomorrow as it would be our only full day in Tana. They all recommended the lemur farm just outside of town. After dinner, we arrnaged this with the front desk as it requires hiring a driver for the day. The Queen’s Palace was also worth a visit, so we put it on our list.
The next morning, we had scarcely finished our breakfast when we were told that our driver had arrived. We grabbed our things and were on our way to the lemur farm. We had been warned that the traffic could be bad getting out of Tana, but even by their standards, it was incredibly slow. We would travel about fifty feet and then stop for about five minutes. What should have taken about half an hour took an hour and a half.
There are several lemur farms in Madagascar which are entirely supported via tourism and donations. Back in 2001, the one near Tana was established. Madagascar is the only country with lemurs, and as such, there is a large need to protect this species which has been threatened from hunting as they have served as a source of food for the Malagasy in the past. The other danger has come from those who have taken them from the wild and raised them as pets. There is actually a readaption cage at the lemur to help rescued lemurs re-enter their society.
At last we arrived at the lemur farm. We had been told that we would have to hire a guide (noticing a trend here?). Princia was our young guide who led us around the farm. She led us only about a hundred feet when we saw our first lemurs. They were the Cockerel Sifaka lemurs which are known for their sideways walk on the ground. They seemed to be natural hams and performed for our cameras.
The next group, the ruffed lemurs, whose name is not hard to discern, were a little more reticent but still seemed to enjoy our presence. These lemurs, unlike the sifaka variety, are able to walk in a straight line when on the ground.
When we encountered the crowned sifaka lemurs, it seemed that while we were asked to stay two meters from them, these lemurs had no compunction about getting closer than two meters to us! Like the first group, they seemed to enjoy being entertainers.
Earlier in our walk, we had tried to see some ring-tailed lemurs, but they were too high in the trees. This time, however, they were ready for us, including a pair of lemur twins. The ring-tailed lemur made famous in the movie, Madagascar, with King Julien, is an active group, and the twins were like small children getting into mischief.
Other features of this park included the baobab tree, the Napoleon’s hat plant and the traveler palm which is featured on the Madagascar flag. There is also an area with two types of tortoises, the radiant tortoise and the spider tortoise – the radiant tortoise has been threatened because of the demand for its beautiful shell.
We continued from there to the Queen’s Palace, which is the highest point in Tanarive. Interestingly, in Madagascar, it is a matriarchal society, so the queen’s palace is much bigger and more lavish. Sadly, it was damaged significantly by a fire set by insurgents, so the repairs are still ongoing.