Adventurer Is Walking 1,800 Miles to Find Madagascar’s Rarest Lemur

Ash Dykes will traverse the island nation to raise awareness about the last 50 northern sportive lemurs.
Northern sportive lemur. (Photo: Nick Garbutt/Indri Images)
Sep 3, 2015· 2 MIN READ
John R. Platt covers the environment, wildlife, and technology and for TakePart, Scientific American, Audubon, and other publications.

The “Lonely Snow Leopard” is looking for the world’s loneliest lemur.

Ash Dykes, the 24-year-old British adventurer who earned his nickname last year while trekking 1,500 miles across Mongolia, is off this month on his latest solo expedition.

This time around he plans to walk 1,800 miles across the island nation of Madagascar. Along the way, he’ll climb eight mountain ranges, cross a desert, encounter dangerous crocodiles, and hopefully get a chance to see the elusive and extremely rare northern sportive lemur.

(Photo courtesy of Ash Dykes)

Only about 50 of these critically endangered primates remain, so Dykes could be one of the few human beings to see one alive in recent years.

“I really hope I see one,” he said over Skype in the hours before hopping a plane to Madagascar. “I’m quite excited about it.”

Will luck be on his side? “I think he might see one,” said Lynne Venart, communications director for the Lemur Conservation Network, the organization that has partnered with Dykes for the expedition. “Their range is not that big. That’s why there are so few of them.”

Venart said that many of Madagascar’s once-vibrant forests have been chopped or burned down over the past decade, a time of economic and political turmoil. Habitats for the northern sportive lemur and many other species have been dramatically reduced or completely destroyed. More than 90 percent of Madagascar’s species exist nowhere else on Earth, and many of these animals are projected to go extinct over the next 25 years.

Dykes had started planning his Madagascar trip when the Lemur Conservation Network approached him about using it as an opportunity to raise awareness about lemurs and the country’s deforestation. “Of course I jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “I thought, if I can do it for a good cause and spread some awareness, absolutely.”

The adventurer documented similar environmental degradation during his trip to Mongolia.

“Global warming has hit pretty hard there,” he said. “Summer’s more extreme, and the winter is colder than it ever used to be. Livestock just can’t handle that temperature anymore, so they die off, which means the nomads who live out there can’t really fend for themselves, and they’re forced to move to the capital city, Ulaanbaatar.” There, people have surrounded the city with communities made up of tents; to keep warm they’re forced to burn plastic, dirty coal, or whatever else they can find. “That’s something I was clueless about until I went over to Mongolia,” Dykes said.

RELATED: Inside the Madagascar Biodiversity Project

The environmental highs and lows he encounters while on expedition embody Dykes’ philosophy about his adventures. “I always say, when you travel, soak up the wonder, the beauty, but of course, don’t ignore the devastation that does go on as well.”

In addition to lemurs—he’s likely to encounter several of the more than 100 lemur species along his journey—Dykes said he is looking forward to seeing a lot of Madagascar’s other wildlife, including chameleons, butterflies, and yes, even crocodiles. “Not too closely, though,” he said, laughing. “They’re quite badass.”

Dykes’ journey is expected to take about five months. Along the way, he’ll post photos and updates to his Facebook page and Twitter, as well as videos to his YouTube channel. “I’ll do what I can and share stories from within Madagascar with the rest of the world,” he said.