Saturday, July 18, 2009

Aye-Ayes... ugly but charming!

Daubentonia madagascariensis

Aye-ayes are the largest nocturnal primate in the world, and they live in eastern Madagáscar. They are also the only primate thought to use echolocation, which they use to find grubs up to 2cm deep in a tree.Their lifespam in the wild is unknown, but in captivity they can live for up to 23 years. Their habitat are rainforests, dryforests, mangrooves and bamboo thickets. Head and body length: 40cm, Tail length: 40cm, Weight: 2kg.

Aye-ayes are particularly adept at finding wood-boring larvae. They tap on wood with their middle finger, listening for hollow spaces. They then extract the larvae with their specially-adapted thin finger. They also feed on seeds, fruit, nectar and fungi. Aye-ayes live alone or in pairs. Males have much larger ranges than females, and they overlap those of the females. They are nocturnal, and construct elaborate sleeping nests to sleep in during the day. Aye-ayes are arboreal and move quadrupedally.

The Aye-aye is an endangered species not only because its habitat is being destroyed, but also due to native superstition. Besides being a general nuisance in villages, ancient Malagasy legend said that the Aye-aye was a symbol of death. It is viewed as a good omen in some areas, however, but these areas are a minority.

Researchers in Madagascar report remarkable fearlessness in the Aye-aye; some accounts tell of individual animals strolling nonchalantly in village streets or even walking right up to naturalists in the rainforest and sniffing their shoes. Therefore, it is no wonder that displaced animals often raid coconut plantations or steal food in villages.

However, public contempt goes beyond this. The Aye-aye is often viewed as a harbinger of evil and killed on sight. Others believe that should one point its long middle finger at you, you were condemned to death. Some say the appearance of an Aye-aye in a village predicts the death of a villager, and the only way to prevent this is to kill the Aye-aye. The Sakalava people go so far as to claim Aye-ayes sneak into houses through the thatched roofs and murder the sleeping occupants by using their middle finger to puncture the victim's aorta.

Incidents of Aye-aye killings increase every year as its forest habitats are destroyed and it is forced to raid plantations and villages. Because of the superstition surrounding it, this often ends in death. On the other hand, the superstition can prevent people from hunting them for food.