Aye-aye - 19, Palmarium, Madagascar
Here it is, the Aye-Aye, the primate woodpecker, rodent, bat or "heh heh", Malagasy for "I don't know".
"I don't know" is exactly the first thing that popped into my brain upon seeing it. My brain struggled to understand what it was seeing, despite having read about Aye-ayes at a basic level. It just doesn't register or fit into any boxes.
My second thought was that if I would not know any better, I'd go along with the local superstition that this is a demonic animal.
Science didn't really know either in earlier times. This creature first was considered a rodent, based on its teeth that perpetually grow and thus must constantly be worn down. It took a long time for it to be considered a primate, and specifically a lemur.
A very weird primate. Its ears are huge and have inner ridges similar to bats, optimized for echolocation, making this the only primate to use this.
Echolocation comes into play when its taps its lengthy 3rd finger rapidly on tree tunks to locate insects/larvae inside. Next, it uses its strong teeth to gnawl a hole into the trunk. Finally, it uses its extremely lengthy 4th finger to rapidly pull out the contents, like a machine gun, using a special hooked nail.
I had always imagined the Aye-aye to be kind of like a Koala: small, slow, and vulnerable. I was wrong at every level. It's pretty large, combined with the tail above 1m in length. It's very fast and escapes a scene in about 2 seconds. It's teeth and fingers are not careful or fragile tools, they're like power tools.
The backstory: from Palmarium, on dry nights, you can take a boat to an uninhabited island. On the island live 6-8 Aye-ayes. They are typically in the canopy of a mangrove forest. Coconuts are strategically placed at a lower level to lure them down. Flash lights and camera flash are disallowed, yet when the lure action is succesful, a relatively weak area light shines on the feeding Aye-aye, which does not seem to disturb them.
Photographing them is challenging due to the lack of flash and the light source being quite weak, but it can be done with some special measures.
To Henriette and me, the Aye-aye was this year's trophy and a proper closure on 3 years of Madagascar, so I'm going to be generous in sharing many shots of this fantastic animal. We're not done with the set though, not quite yet.
The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a lemur, a strepsirrhine primate native to Madagascar that combines rodent-like teeth that perpetually grow and a special thin middle finger.