ISLAND OF LEMURS: MADAGASCAR
Greater Bamboo Lemurs
The go-to tool for much of the film, says Douglas, was the MAT tower, a
light-weight hydraulic mast that can rise 40 feet up into the forest canopy. The
tower's heaviest part, which could be broken down and reassembled, is a ten-foot
long beam which weighs approximately 250 pounds.
One of the most intense setups using the tower was deep in Ranomafana
National Park's rainforest and involved the movie's "love story" between two
groups of critically endangered Greater Bamboo lemurs.
Greater Bamboo lemurs are extremely rare-there only 300 in the world. The two
that reside in Ranomafana National Park are a father whose mate was likely
killed and his female offspring. They were the only two of their species living
in a protected forest.
Dr. Wright located another group of Greater Bamboo lemurs in a village
outside of Ranomafana National Park and she wanted to translocate a few
individuals to Ranomafana to bolster the population in the park by introducing
potential mates for the father and his daughter. This had never been done before
and was quite an undertaking; it took the entire year before production started
just to coordinate the details. Dr. Wright and her team not only had to secure
permits, but work with village elders to acquire permission. In addition, they
wanted to follow the animals before the capture to compare their behavior after
they were translocated. For the filmmakers, it was an opportunity to capture on
film this once-in-a-lifetime effort to save a species.
A "release cage," which would temporarily house the lemurs they brought in so
they could acclimate to the new surroundings safely, also had to be designed and
built. The project was undertaken by the staff at the Centre ValBio, a facility
in Ranomafana National Park established by Dr. Wright to study lemurs. The
secluded location was chosen by Dr. Wright based on proximity to food and the
resident Greater Bamboo lemurs but out of the view of tourists visiting
Ranomafana National Park's network of trails.
Once the new lemurs were safely quarantined in Ranomafana, they were checked
out and fitted with telemetry collars so they could be tracked after they were
Meanwhile, the release cage site was prepared for filming. A team of 40
porters helped haul a couple thousand pounds of camera gear down miles of
slippery jungle pathways through rain and mud to the release site.
Working as quietly as possible, the crew set up while the transferred lemurs
were brought down to the release cage. Now, all the filmmakers could do was
Douglas states, "We had no certainty that the father and daughter lemurs
would come to meet the new Bamboo lemurs, but Pat's idea was that if they did,
they could acclimate to the new
arrivals safely, with the cage wire protecting each side from aggression." To
the filmmaker's delight, that's exactly what happened.
"In a film shoot full of firsts, this was my favorite moment, capturing that
successful meeting and the release that followed, creating a new family and the
possibility of replenishing the population."
Fellman was also amazed. "The moment the father and daughter crept out of the
foliage and went to the cage, they realized that, after years of solitude, they
were no longer alone."
Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Wright and her team, there is hope for a new baby
lemur next year and the Greater Bamboo lemur may take a small step back from the
brink of extinction.
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