Like Iceland, New Zealand, and the isles
of the South Atlantic, Madagascar
for most of its ninety million years or so
had been untouched by homo sapiens –
until we carved out logs, invented paddles,
outriggers, sails, and learned to read sun and winds.
Almost as soon as the first sailors
had come ashore the forests were slashed
and set alight, the flightless Elephant Bird
and the Giant Lemur were extinguished.
The damp air of New Year’s morning is heavy
with the spent gunpowder of last night’s fireworks,
and the cloying smoke of wood-burning stoves,
so we are going to the Zoo to see
the lemurs in their new enclosure,
where we hominids may walk amongst them
as if through the dense forests of their island.
The Zoo conserves five of the hundred species
of lemur, the world’s oldest primate,
and peculiar to Madagascar.
Larger than cats, surer than squirrels
two Red Ruffed Lemurs have leapt to the top
of the tallest tree in the enclosure –
and are calling loudly to each other,
aggressively it seems to us viewers below.
Perhaps some ancient memory impelled them
to the canopy’s highest point so that they
might see their green and pristine land, but instead
found only scorched plains of felled baobobs
and the red earth haemorrhaging into the sea
under a poisoned sky.
Chester Zoodeforestationglobal warminglemursMadagascar