Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

On the Acquisition of Aye-ayes

The Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a lemur, a strepsirrhine primate native to Madagascar that combines rodent-like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and is characterized by its unusual method of finding food; it taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out. From an ecological point of view the Aye-aye fills the niche of a woodpecker as it is capable of penetrating wood to extract the invertebrates within.  (Wikipedia, accessed July 16, 2010)

On the island of Jersey, in the English Channel, I met an aye-aye. It was in a dark enclosure; you had to walk through an airlock of sorts, or more accurately a lightlock, a bit like the entrance to a photographic darkroom. The zookeepers had shifted the circadian rhythm of the aye-aye, the world’s largest nocturnal primate, so that it would be awake while visitors were present during the day. No one goes to a zoo to see a sleeping aye-aye, obviously. The zoo (they didn’t want to call it a zoo, you understand) was the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Wildlife Park, founded in 1959 as the Jersey Zoo. It contained the private collection of a gentleman called Gerald Durrell (pronounced like “squirrel”), famed author of “My Family and Other Animals,” which chronicles a portion of Mr. Durrell’s fascinating and privileged childhood, spent on the Greek island of Corfu with an array of odd characters including his brother Lawrence Durrell, a literary giant in his own right.
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