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Vaccines have actually made their way to Madagascar, largely thanks to the Covax program. Not only to Madagascar, but to my provincial town! I thought my chances of being vaccinated were near zero as a relatively young and healthy foreigner. But after initially restricting vaccinations to special categories, they were soon opened to whoever wanted them, as apparently most folks are afraid of being vaccinated. I had no such fear! I eagerly lined up last Friday, and received an injection of CovidShield, which is the generic version of the AstroZeneca jab made in India. It packed a punch! I have spent the last four days experiencing a mild redux of my two-week battle with covid, back in March. But in a way I'm happy, as I know it has really activated my immune system. Hopefully in combination with a recent infection it will confer a high degree of protection going forwards. There was a strange joy to being vaccinated. It gave some tangibility to my hopes for the end of this blasted pandemic, though in truth, we're still a long way from defeating it in Madagascar. The vaccine folks told me that only 1500 people have been vaccinated so far. That's out of around 100,000 in the town, and many more in the surrounding region. Nonetheless, it's a positive development, and I'm happy that USAid is helping to fund this. It seems to me that vaccinating the whole world would be a very worthy investment, even from cynical financial moties.
Pollen's Vanga is part of a genus of big vangas with laterally broad but flattened bills. All endemic of course. This one was in Ranomafana National Park.
The South African variant of covid has made it to Madagascar, and fueled the virus's largest wave to date. The official numbers of cases and deaths have doubled within a few weeks. True numbers may be 1-2 orders of magnitude higher. Some of the dynamics that seemed earlier to soften the impact of the virus, such as a young, healthy, outdoor-living population, seem less protective against this new variant.
We hear stories of desperation from the capital, where families scramble to find oxygen or ventilators for their loved ones. Thankfully, my town is still calm, and hospitals aren't yet overwhelmed. Mask wearing is at an all time high, perhaps inspired by police gangs that drive around and pick up the maskless. Schools are closed and commercial flights are cancelled, presumably to try to keep out even more virulent variants such as the once now ravaging India.
A few batches of vaccine may be headed our way in May, but these will be reserved for essential personnel. A true solution, if it exists at all, seems very far in the future. Folks in the US have some justifiable optimism, but here in Madagascar, things have never looked darker than they do right now.
Campan's Chameleon, or Furcifer campani, is one of a small suite of chameleons that are endemic to the highlands of Madagascar.
A bit more about my personal experience with covid. I felt undeniably sick for a day, then knew it was covid when I lost all smell and much taste. That's a relatively mild symptom that is surprisingly disturbing, especially as it's uncertain whether and how quickly it will come back. For five days, I had aching muscles, a low fever, especially first thing in the morning, was generally fatigued, and had a weird feeling of visceral unwellness that exceeded that of a typical flu. After a week I felt much better and tried a moderate bodyweight workout, which was a mistake, and resulted in my feeling really bad for 24 hours. After two weeks I was close to feeling normal, and was able to exercise again. But until now, six weeks after developing systems, I still feel weird effects of this virus jangling around my system. I have occasional bouts of shortness of breath and dizziness, and sometimes an undefined feeling of malaise. Considering that I battled this virus from a position of being relatively young, and very healthy, I was easily able to imagine its terrible effects on older, and/or less fit and fortunate folks. It is a weird bug, unlike any other sickness I have experienced. Despite having only had a very mild case, I'd strongly recommend that people who haven't had it do whatever they can to keep it that way!
On my next post I'll talk more about the overall Madagascar situation at the moment which is.... not good.
Madagascar Buzzard is one of the most common raptors on its namesake island. This one was on the heights of the Andringitra Massif.
I sense pandemic fatigue both in others and myself. Unfortunately though, the virus marches on. Here in its Madagascar, it's at its worst point yet. There are hundreds or thousands of serious cases, perhaps because of the arrival of the "South African" variant. This surge has been more than enough to overwhelm the capacity of hospitals in many places. We hear stories of people desperately searching for working ventilators in the capital. International flights have been stopped, and some internal regions have closed their borders. Schools are once again closed. Officially, cases have surged from 20,000 to 26,000 in the last month. But from what I have observed these numbers have almost no relation to reality. The true number of cases is probably at least 100x higher.
Unfortunately, my family and I have been part of this latest "surge"; we all came down with covid a month ago. Everyone has recovered well, but I will write a few details about my personal experience with the illness in my next post.
The Hook-billed Vanga is the lankiest of the vangas. And with its bulky hooked bill, it's a serious predator that often goes after prey like medium-sized chameleons.
These updates have become increasingly infrequent as the pandemic wears on. But with cases surging in the US and Europe, it's a good time to update folks about what's happening in Madagascar. Basically, after a rapid and terrifying surge, the virus has receded for largely mysterious reasons. Active cases are down to a couple hundred in the whole country, and just a (literal) handful in the region where I live. I don't think this has happened because of an especially concerted or effective effort, as I frequently see photos of masses of unmasked people in major towns. It might be largely explained by the onset of the hotter weather of austral summer.
Madagascar is completely closed to the outside world again, with even repatriation flights stopped. This decision has likely been driven by fears of the huge new wave of cases in France. We're hoping for a vaccine but keenly aware that Madagascar will not be at the top of anyone's list of vaccine priorities.
The Fosa is the top of the food chain in Madagascar. It's a mongoose-cum-mountain lion that belongs to the endemic Malagasy carnivorans family.
I just realized I haven't posted on this topic in nearly a month. It's strange. Time slowed time at the start of this pandemic, and just seems to get faster as it wears on and we adapt to the "new normal". The good news here is that after exploding a month ago, the virus has been beaten back, and there is only a moderate number of new cases each day. The bad news is that my town has become the "epicenter" of the virus in Madagascar in the last two weeks; declared as such by a French newspaper. There are at least 50 critical cases, and quite a few deaths. Despite this, schools are opening, or already open. Domestic flights have resumed. And there are plans for the resumption of international travel in October. The local spike notwithstanding, this is probably the right call at this point. We have learned a lot about how to live with these blasted fragments of DNA.
The Lance-nosed Chameleon is also known as the Narwhal-Dinosaur. At least I like to call it that! Read on for COVID in the 8th Continent (installment 24). The pandemic situation remains confusing. An afternoon curfew in my town started yesterday, in response to a local spike in cases. Meanwhile, there are rumors that the whole country will "open up" in about a week, including the resumption of both domestic and international flights. Is there a coherent and logical strategy in place? I hope so. I do tend to think that lock-downs cannot be sustained much longer in a country as poor as this. Who knows what will happen next. The herbal remedy, which was much touted a couple months ago, hasn't prevented the 15,000 documented cases, though the true believers attribute our low rate of severe cases and fatalities to the beverage. At the beach a few days ago, I watched some local pop stars making a music video bemoaning the pandemic lock-downs and mocking the herbal brew!
Madagascar Pratincole breeds exclusively on the island, but migrates to the coast of East Africa during the austral winter. Why? I'm really not sure! Seems like a lot of flying over water for an only modestly warmer and more bug-rich climate!
This virus is hard to understand. Covid seemed to have reached my town in a major way a few weeks ago when a taxi driver contracted the virus and then quickly died from it. At that point, I assumed that 100s of people had already been infected, and that soon we would have 1000s of cases. But very little has happened subsequently. There are about 30 known active cases, mostly mild. I'm certainly thankful that we continue to be spared, perhaps due to having a young and healthy population that spends the vast majority of its time outdoors.
Boettger's Chameleon is endemic to the northern sixth of Madagascar, including the mountains near where I live. It's on the small-medium end of the chameleon size scale, and the large-enormous end of the chameleon rostral protuberance size scale!
Madagascar has just cracked 13,000 cases, yet the borders remain closed, with all international flights grounded. I don't want to become embroiled in covid-infected political debates, but I will say that the approach in many developing countries is hard for me to understand. Sure, it makes sense to close the borders when you have zero cases and Europe has 10s of 1000s. But when there are 1000s of cases within your country, what is the threat of reopening flights, carefully monitoring arriving passengers, and trying to keep your tourist sector alive? It IS a tricky situation, and I don't envy those making these decisions.
Henst's Goshawk is one of the biggest and baddest of Madagascar's raptors. Actually looks and acts a lot like a Northern Gos.
Things are getting scary. Cases have quadrupled in a week. We're rapidly nearing 10,000 for the country. And there is a sudden outbreak in my local DIANA region, which had been spared heretofore. Hospitals in the capital are nearing capacity, and report having insufficient oxygen and other essential equipment. This same story has now been repeated many times across the world. Nothing especially unique about this. But sad to see it happening to my adopted country.
Short-legged Ground-Roller. Mantadia NP. One of the top 5 coolest members of the endemic ground-roller family! COVID in the 8th Continent (installment 20). It has been an eventful and tragic few days. Although my town had a case or two early on, among folks who had recently returned home from France, there had been none for months. That changed over the weekend, when a local man in his 40s was hospitalized, then died soon thereafter. He was tested, and the cause of his death was covid. He was a taxi driver, and additional tests have confirmed the transmission of the virus to some of his colleagues. It's also feared that he might have infected many others, as these "bajaj" mini taxis take 100s or 1000s of passengers for short distances every day.
I'm breaking from tradition, and including a couple iPhone snaps from my recent expedition to the grocery store. The first pic shows a common local style of mask-wearing. Lots of folks have masks. But when half of them seem focused on protecting their chin, I'm not sure how much good it's doing! The second photo shows an informational poster about the virus. Cases are exploding, and after months with less than 200 cases, Madagascar is suddenly approaching 4000 cases. There are reports of hospital overcrowding already beginning in the two biggest cities.