Adventurer encounters world's rarest lemur during 1,600-mile trek

Welsh adventurer Ash Dykes just became one of the few people on the planet to ever see two of Madagascar's rarest, most critically endangered species, the northern sportive lemur and the Madagascan pochard duck.

All it took to achieve these rare feats was for Dykes to walk 1,600 miles, hack through impenetrable jungles, climb eight mountains, cross a desert and run from a forest fire. Along the way he nearly died from malaria, almost got washed away by rushing rivers, suffered painful spider bites, and avoided an endless parade of enormous snakes, giant scorpions, and poisonous centipedes.

Dkyes said it was all worth it to complete his 155-day, world-record expedition, which made him the first person to ever cross Madagascar on foot.

"I really shocked myself and learned a lot about myself here," the 25-year-old said by phone, just hours after completing his epic trek.

He also learned a lot about Madagascar's unique wildlife. On his first day, while sitting on a sand dune on Madagascar's southern coast, he witnessed a humpback whale jumping out of the Indian Ocean. As his journey progressed he spotted dozens if not hundreds of other wildlife species, including five other kinds of lemurs, as well as chameleons, snakes, small mammals, and huge butterflies that he described as like something out of the movie "Avatar."

Seeing the northern sportive lemur toward the end of the journey—one of the major goals of the expedition—proved to be one of the most exciting moments, although Dykes reported that it was extremely fleeting. "I only just got a glimpse of it," he said. "It was sleeping in its hole in its tree, but we were too loud approaching. It just ran up the tree, jumped away and was gone."

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The unexpected encounter with pochard ducks also proved memorable. "We were just hacking our way through pure difficult jungle," Dykes said, "and then all of sudden, three quarters of the way up, it goes flat and opens up into this sort of grass field with a lake in the middle." Swimming comfortably in the lake were the ducks—some of the last 40 or so members of this species in existence.

In addition to the wonder, however, Dykes witnessed the environmental threats and deforestation the entire country faces.

"At night we could see the forest fires lighting up the sides of mountains," Dykes said. "Other times we were talking through dense jungles and all of a sudden it just opened up where all the trees were cut down. It's a huge shame."

He emphasizes, though, that the positives he encountered far outweighed the negatives. "Throughout the whole country you had the hospitality of the locals, you had the good food, you had the wildlife," he said. "You had the challenges, sure, and they were really difficult, but once you got through them, you've got a nice meal being cooked, that's all positive."

Dykes also praised the conservationists who he met along his journey. "They're doing incredible things to restore Madagascar, its wild species and its forests," he said. He pointed out one project that planted 10,000 new trees last year. "You don't see that in the newspaper," he said. "Sometimes that incredible work gets overlooked because people look into the negatives rather than the positives."

Lynne Venart, co-founder of the Lemur Conservation Network, said Dykes' journey and online accounts helped to create enthusiasm for Madagascar and its wildlife.

"Because Madagascar is so remote, most people have never been there, have no idea what the terrain is like, know anything about the Malagasy people, or realize that so much unique wildlife is found there and nowhere else," she said. "It's been a lot of fun to be able to track Ash through social media as he walked through the remotest parts of this island, and hear first-hand what it's like, who he met, and the challenges he faced."

As he waited for his flight back home to the United Kingdom in a few days, Dykes said he hopes the people who followed his journey online were inspired to take action and to feel that they can make a difference.

"I always tell myself that the bad times have come to pass, they haven't come to stay," he said. "Obviously it's challenge after challenge out here, but if you can persevere and you can get through to the end."

This isn't the rarest lemur in the world, but it might be the cutest:
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