The Aye-Aye Of Madagascar
Through our involvement with the Fair Trade company Bezalila that is based in Madagascar, we have realised more and more what an amazing, special country Madagascar is. It has thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. It split from the Indian continent about 88 million years ago allowing plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation making Madagascar a biodiversity hotspot. Many species in Madagascar are endemic – they are not found anywhere else in the world! Some of these birds’ and animals’ names are not ones that we usually hear about. The one that intrigues us most is the aye-aye. Looking quite small in this photo, but also, it’s got to be said, quite scary!
Why is it called an aye-aye?
There are two theories. One is that Pierre Sonnerat, a French naturalist, created the name after hearing a ‘cry of exclamation and astonishment’, which the locals gave upon seeing it. The second is that ‘aye-aye’ is derived from the Malagasy ‘heh heh’ which means ‘I don’t know’. When the locals were asked what the creature was, they would answer ‘heh heh’, either because they really didn’t know what it was, or they were afraid to speak its name. Why might they have been afraid to speak its name? Due to their startling appearance and the fact they wander around villages at night, aye-ayes are considered a symbol of bad luck by the locals in Madagascar. Some of the locals even regard them as bringers of death that sneak into people’s houses in darkness to puncture their arteries using their claws! And because of this, the poor aye-ayes are often killed on sight.
So sad that they can be regarded like that, as they are amazing creatures. The aye-ayes are like bats in the way that they use echolocation, that is they locate something by producing sounds and then listening to their echoes to find their way in the dark and to find their food. They tap the trunk of a tree, listen to the echo produced by the tapping sound which tells them if the inside of the wood is hollow which means it is likely to contain some juicy insect larvae for them to eat which can easily be reached with their very long middle finger!
In addition to this, the aye-aye is the largest nocturnal primate in the world – including its bushy tail it can be 2 foot long. Its teeth continue growing throughout its lifetime meaning it needs to chew and gnaw to keep them in check. Because of their negative reputation, sadly, the aye-ayes have been hunted down and are now an endangered species.
The destruction of forests has also contributed to the decrease of their population. But we hope the aye-aye will survive: nature reserves have been set up and captive breeding programmes have been put in place. We don’t want this fascinating creature to disappear. It would be so sad, you must agree. But whether we would want to bump into one in the middle of the night is another thing!