Traversing the dense and unforgiving forested ridges of Madagascar’s northeastern Makira-Masoala Landscape, served as both a serious physical and mental trial for me.
I was working as a research assistant for a doctoral student studying the effects of forest fragmentation on the carnivores of Madagascar. In a nutshell, he wanted to assess how breaking up a forest through human development was going to impact the survival of these impressive and endemic animals.
My job required me to feebly keep pace with my Malagasy research team as they practically skipped up muddy vertical slopes, down through thorned vines matted with massive spider webs, and then across deceitfully shallow rice fields. Let’s just say I was the slow kid face-planting in the dirt while the cool kids watched amused/annoyed from far ahead of me.
These treks into the wild brought me to experience the notion of bushmeat for the first time. Bushmeat is any wild caught meat used for human consumption. And the impact of seeing lemur carcasses hanging from trees, and poachers traps strewn throughout forests hunted almost to depletion, is what impassioned me to study human effects of hunting for my mater’s thesis. Which initiated the path I am still on today, as I gear up for my soon-to-begin doctoral work.
That summer was also the first time in my life that I spent significant amounts of time totally and utterly by myself. And the space between me and the world I knew became filled with contemplations of everything I was experiencing, the type of research I wanted to conduct, and in my lesser sane moments – thoughts suggesting a full existential crisis. It wasn’t until deep into my following master’s year that I realized how changed I was. I had grown a lot amongst the heat and rain of Malagasy life, and the silent moments loud with sounds of the forest backing my own thundering thoughts, had forever heightened my strength and drive.