Protocol Override: When Lemur Trapping Fails

At some point in even the most well-conceived schemes, things don’t go according to plan. You see this all the time in blockbuster movies, for example. Something upsets a brilliant plan to rob a bank, or the like, and the masterminds need to re-group, demonstrating remarkable adaptability to these new, unforeseen circumstances. Well, this definitely isn’t Hollywood, but heisting lemurs is not all that much different. The protocol for trapping, as described earlier, becomes problematic when you trap nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zippo. (Rats don’t count). What is a lemur biologist, with limited time and resources, to do? Desperately improvise. Sneak up on a sleeping, unsuspecting lemur and snatch. Or pluck, if you prefer. There are few suitable scenarios for how this may occur, employing a plethora of techniques, mustering all the creative juices that can be mustered in a field setting. I will walk you through three of these approaches, but do keep in mind these are all, of course, hypothetical.

Hypothetical Scenario One–“The shake and take approach”
Your targeted lemur is peacefully curled up in her nest, constructed of what appears to be a random assortment of broken branches, leaves, and tiny thin bamboo that forest hikers passionately despise. This nest is approximately five meters up. Hardworking guides #1 and #2 shimmy up the easily scalable tree, and inch their way out to the branch where the nest sits. Hardworking guide #3 waits below with the radio and antenna to localize signal and point #1 and #2 in the right direction. Guide #1 gives the branch a gentle shake to alert the fuzzy of human presence. She perks up, big glassy eyes peering out of her nest and decides to make a run for it. If you’re lucky, she will take a miscalculated leap to the nearest tree branch, and fall into the waiting arms of guide #3 below. This will, of course, happen in slow motion, a dramatic score playing in the background, as researchers view the spectacle from the nearest slope. Hypothetically, of course.

Hypothetical Scenario Two–“The ritual drum beat tactic”
This one is a bit different in how it might play out. Your mission, should you chose to accept: recover dwarf lemur from tree hole. Mission impossible? We’ll find out. Tree hole properties range from easy-breezy to insanely challenging in lemur-snatching terms. These holes can be found in trees with trunk diameters from as small as softball-sized to wider than the encircling of arms, much to the chagrin of Malagasy tree-huggers everywhere. In our hypothetical scenario, we’ll pretend that the tree hole in question has a DBH of 50 centimeters and is 6 meters up. (Let’s learn. DBH stands for diameter at breast height…ecologist-speak!) The first step is to gently knock on the trunk of said tree to make sure it is indeed hollow and try to gauge how far up (or down) the “hollowness” extends. If you’re very quiet, you can listen for disembodied lemur vocalizations being emitted from somewhere inside the hollow trunk. (Knock, knock….lemur? Are you home?) If there is confirmation of his presence, you might hypothetically pick up sticks and begin banging on the trunk in some sort of strange ritual drum beat to rouse the animal into choosing to leave the safety of his hole (or just because banging on trees with sticks is great fun).

A variation of the "ritual drum beat tactic" (note: this is only a portrayal of the hypothetic scenario).

A variation of the “ritual drum beat tactic” (note: this is only a portrayal of the hypothetic scenario).

Desperate times leads to desperate measures (or desperate researchers?). And desperate researchers will try anything. And I mean anything. Singing as a means to enchant him to come out (“Come out, come out wherever you are”). Trying to rationalize with him (“Fuzzy, come outside. We’ll give you banana….lots and lots of banana!). No hypothetical scenario would be complete without the birthing of a novel million dollar idea. Behold! The Super Scooper 2000: Lemur Edition. This ingenious device is ideal for gently scooping our slippery animal out of his tree hole. I imagine it would be quite malleable, but rigid enough to “snake out the drain”…er, tree hole. The end would be baited with a potent, synthetic banana-esque fragrance, or lemur pheromones…or a gross mixture of the two (sold separately), to attract the lemur to the cushy basket affixed to the distal end of the scooper. The lemur would be so excited by the prospect of the smelly basket, he would jump right in and blissfully “wheeee” in a high-pitched lemur voice as he is gently removed from his hole. Brilliant, right? Me thinks this device would truly contribute to the success of Hypothetical Scenario Two. Mission possible.

Hypothetical Scenario Three–“The ‘Are you smarter than a dwarf lemur?’ technique”
Again, imagine for a moment that your animal is securely holed-up in a tree hole small enough to block the entrance of even the smallest of hands (as it turns out, lemurs are quite smushy). This approach involves a combination of a nighttime stake-out (minus the cool van with darkened windows, binoculars, and pizza) and doing your best to outsmart the little fella and predict his next move. You might, for example, hike to the tree hole in question at dusk, before the animal emerges to begin feeding for the night, and make a ridiculous request of your guides. (“So let me get this straight. You want me to climb up that tree and sit quietly, without moving a muscle, for two hours waiting to pounce when the animal pokes out his head?)

Alright. We are up in a tree. Now what?

Alright. We are up in a tree. Now what?

Hypothetically, you would be very thankful when they willingly comply. This approach should work beautifully, except in the unlikely event that your focal animal is sharing a tree hole with his brother, and the brother happens to emerge first and alert his sibling of our sneaky presence and impending doom. At this point you may try “fishing for lemurs” with a stick baited with banana carefully placed in the hole. Didn’t I say we would try anything?

Although I cannot confirm nor deny that these scenarios did indeed take place, Marina and I spend copious amounts of time and energy brainstorming other possible solutions should our trapping techniques fail. For example, what if we obtained a giant roll of fly paper and unrolled it in close proximity to sleeping sites? Or constructed a giant butterfly net? Or maybe, since Marina is Argentinian (and by definition, all Argentinians are expert lasso-ers), we could outfit her with a lasso and some gaucho-style clothing (for dramatic effect) and let her loose in the forest? At this point, I put the call out for any suggestions from the peanut gallery. Have a genius idea? I’d love to hear it! (Think I’m kidding? I’m not.)

So why is desperation so chokingly thick regarding re-capturing our animals that we would go to such extreme hypothetical measures to get them in hand? Every morning, we spend 2-4 hours in the forest meticulously noting which animals are still hibernating and which have become active since the previous day (Note: the hikes also function to keep “bean belly” at bay as hiking up and down mountains is a great calorie torcher!). It is essential for both Marina’s and my project to take samples and metabolic rate measurements from the animals as soon as possible after emergence from hibernation. No animals = no samples = no advancement of knowledge. Let’s hope desperation and resourcefulness pay off ten-fold and we get what we came here for. I rather enjoy advancing knowledge.

Your daily hibernation report: 6 animals active, 8 still hibernating, 1 broken collar.

It’s a jungle out there!


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