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On the Trail of Indri Lemurs in Andasibe

THE trip to see the Indri lemurs, largest of some 20 kinds, begins in the capital city of Antananarivo, where steep hills around the main valley are covered in a motley pattern of mostly one- and two-story homes. Houses in the outskirts are less substantial, but picturesque, with small wooden balconies and mud or wood walls. They look medieval but are usually no more than a few decades old. You can drive to Andasibe Reserve, but we took the train, a five-hour trip through villages of thatched huts and along lush, irrigated rice fields in valleys. All along the way, a variety of fruits and other home-cooked foods were held up to the train windows by vendors at very cheap prices.

The village of Andasibe has only one tourist hotel: Buffet de la Gare, managed by Joseph Andrianjaka. The hotel is modest, but adequate, and meals are good. The entrance to the rain forest is about a one-mile walk from the hotel.

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Another Joseph (Rasafindrakutu) guided us to the lemurs about 7 o'clock the next morning. You need a permit, costing about $12.50 per person, obtainable at the Ministry of Eaux and Forets, in the capital.

Joseph left us alone for a few minutes to hunt for the lemurs. The family of four he found is quite used to visitors. We were able to photograph the animals and tape-record their cries from close up, though they remained in the trees, sometimes 45 feet up or higher. With Joseph's expert help, we followed them for several hours as they moved around to eat, never going far.

We were so fascinated that we came back the next morning with Joseph. He found the same lemurs. Sometimes they ignored us. But sometimes they gazed down at us with astonished faces. And several times they came down the tree trunks to within a few yards of us, as if we were not the only curious primates in the forest that morning.

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