Meet the Aye-Aye (Daubentoniamadagascariensis)
If you shaved an aye-aye and stood him on his hind feet, he would look very much like “Gollum,” the J. R. R. Tolkien character from Lord of the Rings.
This strange little creature from Madagascar has amazingly long fingers on his hands (yes, he’s a primate), and huge eyes for hunting his food at night.
There is only one species of aye-aye now living, although a much larger one lived in the past but is now extinct. Many scientists and citizen’s groups are now working hard to save this animal, which was once considered to be one of the rarest mammals on Earth.
Like the cat during the European Middle Ages, the aye-aye is thought to be an evil creature, and for this reason it is traditionally shot on sight by the human citizens of Madagascar. Unlike the cat, who could survive it’s persecution because of it’s large numbers and wide range, the aye-aye lives only on it’s island, and cannot easily regenerate it’s numbers.
It is almost impossible to see the animals now because they are nocturnal and rare. It is even more difficult to start a successful breeding program in zoos.
When zoologists first studied this animal they were not sure what to call it – it has sharp, continuously growing front teeth like a rabbit or rat, and for this reason they thought the aye-aye might be a rodent. It has ears that belong on a bat, and a tail that belongs on a squirrel; it’s fingers don’t look like anything that you would expect to find on any animal at all. It is now know to be a lemur who lives in moist forests on the eastern side of Madagascar, eating insect larvae, ramy nuts, and some vegetation.
Their middle fingers are amazingly long and thin, and have been aptly described as “skeletal.” They use this long narrow finger for digging insect larvae from trees. They build nests high in the trees, but often come down and walk on all four limbs on the ground. The aye-aye will mate at any time of the year, and will nurse her young for about seven months..
Gerald Durrell, founder of the Wildlife Trust, wrote an engaging book called the Aye-aye and I, which tells about his experiences in Madagascar while studying and capturing several of these elusive critters for a breeding program. He describes the aye-aye this way: “a Walt Disney witch’s black cat with a touch of E.T. thrown in.”