Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Aye-Aye: Very Strange Primates In Madagascar

"The Ugliest Animals | Aye-aye"
Zoo Country

"One of the most famous and bizarre animals is the Aye-aye, found only in Madagascar. The Aye-aye 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 unique method of finding food...."

I say, Abercrombie, we seem to have caught a - thing?

The Aye-aye - also called Ahay, Aiay, Fingertier, or Hay-hay - isn't a rodent, although it's odd teeth had naturalists thinking so in the 19th century. These things are primates, a sort of lemur, and seriously strange-looking creatures.

Endangered Aye-Ayes

It's not hard to find out that the Aye-aye is endangered. What's not so widely discussed is the sort of good news / bad news detail. I found this, under "Threats and Reasons for Decline:" on the animalinfo.org website:

"The main threat to the aye-aye comes from loss of its forest habitat.

"Traditionally, indigenous people on Madagascar tolerated the aye-aye, and even regarded it with superstitious awe. However, attitudes have changed and now the aye-aye is regarded by some as a harbinger of death. The appearance of one in the vicinity is thought by some people to signify the imminent death of a villager, with the only way of averting this being to kill the aye-aye. When loss of its forest habitat led the aye-aye to invade plantations, animals were killed when they raided villagers' crops. Fortunately, because of its evil reputation it is usually not hunted for food...."
("Animal Info - Aye-aye," animalinfo.org)

And, under "Tidbits:"

"...In some parts of Madagascar, the aye-aye is regarded as a harbinger of evil and killed on sight (The Sakalava believe that the aye-aye enters houses during the night through thatched roofs and murders the sleeping human occupants. It supposedly uses its elongated finger to cut the aortic vein of its victims. (Goodman & Sch├╝tz 2000)). In other parts of Madagascar the aye-aye is considered to be a good omen...."
("Animal Info - Aye-aye," animalinfo.org)

Endangered - But Maybe Recovering

At the risk of sounding optimistic, there's a little good news about the Aye-aye:

"...By 1983 only a few scattered individuals were thought to remain on the northeast and possibly northwest coasts. However, sightings increased during the 1980's, and by 1994 it had been reported from an increasing number of locations, although always at low densities...."
("Animal Info - Aye-aye," animalinfo.org)[emphasis mine]

Sure, "always at low densities" - but if this was a critter we were trying to contain, we'd be worried that it's emerging from the night in more places now.

That face, being nocturnal, and having a weirdly long skeletal middle finger haven't helped locals get all warm and fuzzy about Aye-ayes, I think.

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