Back from Madagascar (in one piece)

Me and a Silky

We finally got back from Madagascar on the 15th July after a hard month in the field finishing off our “Lemur Blues” film for BBC2. We started off by heading up country to the ‘protected area’ of Makira, on an expedition to dart whatever groups of Silky Sifaka’s we could find. This was probably the most remote area of Madagascar I’ve filmed in over the last couple of years, a 5hr boat trip then a gruelling 2 hr slog up the mud slope from hell to the temporary camp that Erik’s amazing team had set up. The ‘camp’ ended up being a village in the middle of nowhere; there was the film team (Tuppence, Andrew Yarme and myself) the Madagascan darting team, vets Ed Lewis & Bobby Schopler (plus Bobby’s son Sam), our usual ‘dream team’ of porters / camera assistants Janvier, Doris & Babaze, plus a team of cooks, porters and other scientists – we even ended up with a fridge being ported up the hill to keep the blood samples cold. It was an amazing setup, with a really great atmosphere, great people, everyone working their socks off to do their part and help understand and protect this beautiful animal.

Makira kit: everything but the kitchen sink (although we did bring the fridge)

I was incredibly impressed with the skill and professionalism of the vets and their teams. It was very difficult terrain to work in; steep, few trails, and a thick understory and the darters / catchers were incredible – I’m not sure I can say the same about us – trying to keep up with action as it unfolded was pretty challenging, but I think we pulled it off. It was really special to see Erik actually holding the animals he has devoted his life to studying and protecting.

The disturbing news was that we had hoped to dart the 11 individuals, in two groups, that a recce team had identified earlier in the year, but when we got there group of 7 had vanished, almost certainly poached, leaving us with only 4. We found traps, and signs of illegal logging throughout the animals range, all rather depressing, and it only goes to illustrate how vulnerable these animals are – there are so few left, and they are vanishing under our noses.

After a week at Makira we came out of the forest and did some rather ‘exciting’ filming of illegal piles of rosewood – we had all sorts of measures in place incase things went sour; a speedboat on standby to extract us etc, but all went well, despite the fact we had to push start our ‘getaway’ car. It was all rather strange, the hotel we were staying at had had problems with rooms being burgled so we had armed police from the local force stationed outside our rooms 24hrs a day, but we were well aware that the very same police force were complicit in the illegal logging trade in the area. So we really didn’t know weather the police were there to protect us or watch us – not particularly relaxing.

We spent the last week up at Marojejey, it was my 4th time there, and by far the most enjoyable. After Makira it seemed like a much easier place to work (although I had previously thought of it as my worst filming nightmare!) and, after getting absolutely destroyed by rain on the previous trips, it was beyond bizarre to have a week of sunshine.

Erik was, as always, tirelessly amazing, and I hope we do his work justice with the film.

Don’t forget to donate at at Erik’s site.

Erik Patel and a Silky Sifaka