Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leaping Lemurs

After a much-needed shower, our Mayotte afternoon began with a visit to Lemur Island. (The official name of Mayotte's third largest island is M'Bouzi, but Lemur Island is much more appropriate; it's crawling with them. To be more precise, the trees are crawling with them.)

Lemurs are fellow primates (pro-simians to be precise) who split off from the simians (monkeys, apes, us) some millions of years ago. Most lemurs are limited to Madagascar, one of the reasons we and many travelers were disappointed when Madagascar got dropped from the itinerary. After our up-close visit on Lemur Island, however, we are feeling much better.

As shown in the pictures, lemurs are quite different from monkeys and apes. Their faces are rather dog-like with a noticeable snout and a wet nose. Your basic monkey, on the other hand, has a much flatter face (see, for example, the vervet monkey we saw in St. Lucia in South Africa).

As we learned first hand, the lemurs also have very soft paws and sharp nails. We had a chance to feed them bananas, which they adore. Several jumped on us in their enthusiasm. (Sorry, no photos of a lemur on Esther's shoulders -- too close for the zoom lens.)

Lemurs weren't the only critters on the island. There was a cute black-and-white cat, who appeared to have reached detente with the lemurs. There was also a healthy population of bright red Madagascar Fodies. We had never heard of the fody before, but they are common in the this part of the world. The males looked like a cross between a finch and a scarlet tanager.

After spending an hour with the lemurs, we headed off for the first snorkel of the trip. We explored a patch reef a few hundred yards off Lemur Island. As you might expect, we saw all sorts of beautiful fish: brightly colored Butterflyfish, Surgeonfish, Wrasse, Parrotfish, Fusiliers, Trevally, Sergeant Majors, etc. We even found the day's "prize fish" -- the pipefish. Pipefish are basically three-inch sea horses that have been straightened. Very cute. (Sorry, no photos yet. Once we get back, we will post anything usable from our disposable underwater camera.)

Add it all up and it was quite a day: crate lake hike, hanging with the lemurs, and snorkeling with Indian Ocean fish. We slept well that night.

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