What originally inspired you to intern in Madagascar with Azafady?
Ani: I did a lot of research online, trying to find a summer program with a conservation focus, and I stumbled upon Azafady’s website by chance. I knew immediately that I wanted to apply, and reading about and watching the posted videos about the Conservation Programme cemented this desire in me. The prospect of going to Madagascar and studying lemurs seemed too good to be true. I think I first found Azafady on a Friday night; I then spent the entire weekend excitedly talking about the program with anyone who would listen, and by Monday I had filled out my application. I am so, so glad I did.
Describe your day to day activities as an intern in Madagascar with Azafady
Ani: Every morning, we split into groups depending on who wanted to do what that day. Some mornings that meant going on lemur transects in the forest, counting and making note of the various species of lemurs we found, what kind of tree they were in, how high up, etc. Even though I walked each transect dozens of times over my two months there, it never grew boring; there was always something new to see, from a regal, beady-eyed kingfisher to a leaf-tailed gecko to a cat-eyed snake. We also went on herp walks, where we would fan out over a transect and make note of any herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) that we could find. Some of my fellow volunteers got very good at identifying the various frogs and geckos we found, but never quite as good as the wonderful guides.
In the afternoons we would split up again, either walking a lemur transect or “going herp-ing,” or doing lemur behavior, where we would find and follow a group of lemurs for an hour and a half, recording their activity. It is too adorable to see the lemurs piled on top of one another in a lemur huddle – an activity my fellow volunteers and I mimicked on chilly nights while stargazing! We also plotted the location of the dypsis sainte luce palm trees in the world’s largest population of these trees, and built fuel-efficient stoves for local families. At night we occasionally would go on lemur transects and herp walks, and I loved these times. It was so exciting to see a flash of color as your headlamp’s light was reflected by a wooly lemur’s eyes, and it was at night that slower people like me had more success catching and identifying frogs!
My favorite activity, though, took place on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays, when we walked down the road to the local school and conducted Environmental Education classes and held Conservation Club. I can’t possibly describe how wonderful the kids of Sainte Luce are: bright, funny, energetic, loving, silly, enthusiastic, generous – they were just an absolute delight to be around. Making friends with the children was just irreplaceable, and even a year later I find myself smiling at random points during the day remembering something funny or sweet that one of my Malagasy friends did. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bi-monthly bush parties. You haven’t seen dancing until you’ve seen Malagasy dancing, and you haven’t been truly exhausted until you’ve tried replicating those steps!
How has this experience impacted your future?
Ani: This experience completely changed me. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true. I caught the travel bug, and now I constantly think about where I want to go in the world, and what I want to do. My dreams now span the globe. My passion for conservation has also grown as a result of working with ACP, and I’ve since become a Wildlife Biology minor and am planning on doing similar field work in South America while studying abroad. Azafady has also been superb about writing recommendations for me when requested, and my time with the program looks great on my resume. But truly, padding my CV does not even make the list of the hundreds of reasons I am glad I went on this trip. I made amazing friends, enjoyed every second of every day (even the rainy ones!), experienced things some people can only dream about, and truly had the time of my life.