The following guide is intended for those desiring to catch their very own lemur. It is written with the intent of capturing small-bodied lemurs of the nocturnal variety, however, specific instructions may be modified, as needed, for larger bodied, or diurnal fuzzies. The success rate of the following tutorial depends on many things (previous experience, rat density, and of paramount importance, sheer dumb luck). It is essential when carrying out the following guidelines to never lose heart, as these animals can surely be elusive.
On the day of the intended “trap fest”, obtain fingerling bananas to be used as bait. These bananas are smallish, roughly 11 cm in length and weigh about 50 grams. Using manual force, break banana into three equal parts and place into a large 1.5 liter Eau Vive bottle (the bottled water brand preferred by the author. Another brand may be used as a substitute). Be sure to cut the top off of the bottle before placement of bananas, as we aren’t trying to bait the lemur with mashed bananas. Liberally coat the banana pieces with sirimamy (refined white sugar; about 1-2 tablespoons for 15-20 banana bits) to begin the fermentation process. Place the bottle ‘o nanners in direct sunlight to expedite fermentation for 3-6 hours, or longer for maximum effectiveness (or shorter if you forget to do the pre-preparation step and are scrambling about last minute). Cloudy day? Improvise. In a pinch, if say for example, purchased bananas were accidentally left in the car on the way to the field site, one may used boiled carrots doused with sugar as a substitute, although the author does not recommend this approach. It turns out that lemurs are not fond of said boiled carrot. As a matter of fact rats, notorious for eating anything and everything, including styrofoam, do not prefer them all that much either. A cautionary tale. If this situation occurs desperately contact every living member of the surrounding countryside, take note of, and kindly ask to “borrow” their banana stock. Banana crisis averted.
The following supplies should be gathered and placed into a fire-engine red polypropylene (recyclable!) bag with a “Shoprite” label boasting its origin: Tomahawk live-traps, blue tarps cut to fit trap size, 16-gauge galvanized wire for attaching traps to trees, flagging tape (any neon color will suffice, green being the obvious exception), sharpie, tree-climbing guide (although, maybe don’t put him or her into the bag. They can probably manage to get themselves to the trapping site just fine), prepared banana in Eau Vive bottle, headlamp, luck.
TREKKING TO TRAPPING SITE
Your trapping locales may vary in distance from the campsite. Choose site based on a.) known sleeping site preferences; b.) documented feeding areas; or c.) a gut feeling of “Oh, what the heck. Let’s give this spot a try”. It’s best to select your “departure from camp” time to allow for the set-up process to occur at dusk, as animals will emerge from their nests or tree holes shortly after sunset.
Upon arrival at chosen site (the author notes that a few missteps and stumbles should be added here for good measure), plop down Shoprite bag containing gathered goodies to scope out prime trapping trees. Beware of bamboo-dense areas as it is nearly impossible (but can be done!) to attach traps to smooth-as-glass, branchless bamboo, rising 10 meters into the air. No choice? Improvise.
Once you’ve selected the perfect location for your trap to be placed, kindly ask your guide, in broken Malagasy, to climb up the tree in your stead. While they are gracefully doing so, remove the trap from goodie bag and assemble (being sure to add some nice, sharp metal induced gashes to your existing arm scratches). Place pre-cut obnoxiously blue tarp, complete with string, around the trap and tie the sting at the bottom. This transforms the trap into an inviting “den” for a lemur to curl up comfortably in after a delicious banana feast, while also serving to protect it from the elements. Remove one piece of pre-cut wire from bag and awkwardly hand all items (trap with tarp and wire) up to your guide waiting patiently in the tree. The average height of traps to be placed is 4-6 meters, although according to the author’s collaborator, ideal placement is “to the sky” (i.e. the higher the better).
While tree-dwelling guide is firmly attaching the trap to a near-horizontal branch, prepare banana platter. The comprises finding a leaf suitable for construction (not too rigid or flexible, with low ripping frequency), using magic to fold it into a cup-shape and securing shape with a thin stick plucked from the ground. The platter functions to present banana-sugar concoction invitingly to the lemur, while holding the sugar juice that lemurs adore. Again, awkwardly hand the nanner-holding platter and corresponding juice up to your guide, while spilling juice down your arm in a sticky, wasteful mess. Guides should have been previously trained to place platter in trap and set the spring-lock door mechanism. Mark trap placement with neon flagging tape labeled with sharpie at a conspicuous location. Say a little prayer as guide is climbing down the tree. Continue in this fashion until desired number of traps have been set. This number may range from 5-8 per site, but more may be achieved depending on available man-power and desperation. Upon completion, stumble back to campsite in the dark, with headlamps as the only means of illumination in the pitch black forest. No headlamp? Improvise.
CHECKING THE TRAPS
When the alarm blares you awake at 4:35 am, give a gentle (or not so much) slap to the face to retain alertness. Clumsily crawl out of tent and apply muddy hiking boots to foot appendages. A note of caution: Misty fog and escaped breath due to cold weather conditions make it very difficult to see. Combined with the pervasive tiny white flowers overtaking the trail system, you may have a recipe for disaster. The culmination of this recipe is a near-face planting into the mass of beautiful, but dangerous flowers (not that the author would know from personal experience…). It is also of noted import that muscle functionality is not at its peak performance at 4:54 am, when ambient temperatures hover around 5 degrees Celsius. And for that matter, neither is brain function. Once you reach trapping locale, sustaining only minor ankle twists, bruises, and the like, visit each trap in succession to check for the following possible options, listed in decreasing order of likelihood. 1.) Rat (endemic or invasive species), sans banana; 2.) Closed trap with no banana; 3.) Open trap with banana; 4.) Open trap with no banana; 5.) Lemur. Remove leftover banana bait (if any) and close traps.
HIKING BACK TO CAMP
The hike back to camp can either be an elated skip, or a dragging of feet, head hung low in disheartened shame depending on the outcome of the previous step. Hopefully, it is the former (Who doesn’t like elation? And skipping?). As to not end this trapping tutorial on a depressing note, the author takes liberties to leave you, dear reader, with a summary of key points. 1.) Improvisation is key. One must be willing to abandon structure for other haphazard approaches when the situation warrants it. 2.) Feel free to modify this guide to suit your lemur-trapping needs. 3.) Never lose heart. Although previous trapping experience does play a key role, much of your success will depend on sheer dumb luck. Unlucky? Improvise!
It’s a jungle out there!