The red-faced Uakaris monkey. The hairless Sphynx cat. The star-nosed mole with an olfactory organ as big and wobbly as an octopus - they are all considered particularly ugly representatives of the animal world. However, many think that the Aye-Aye, also known as a finger animal, a lemur species in Madagascar, has the greatest optical scary factor.
If you want to see the tangled animal with the bat-like ears, the giant gnarled fingers and the bright yellow bulging eyes, you have the best chance of seeing it in the Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve in eastern Madagascar near the city of Toamasina.
Seven of the hundred or so lemur species live here on Lake Ampitabe in a protected forest area that can only be reached by boat. They are endemic to Madagascar, meaning they are only found on this giant island off the east coast of Africa. And they are all threatened with extinction.
The Aye-Aye, a cat-sized creature, is particularly endangered. As if he didn't want to put his sight on anyone, this lemur only does gymnastics through the dense forests at night to catch a few larvae and insects with his long fingers. Most Malagasy consider the small animal to be the harbinger of evil, so avoid it or hunt it down. Tourists interested in zoology, on the other hand, are happy to put up with some hardships in order to see the bizarre Aye-Aye in person.
The Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve is located on a secluded peninsula. Those who have made the long journey can relax during the day on the fine sandy beach of Lake Ampitabe or go in search of lemurs such as the indri, the crowned lemur or the mouse lemur in the palm forest.
Seeing the Aye-Aye, however, requires a lot more effort: a night trek through muddy terrain and thorny bushes. Best accompanied by a local guide.
Guide Romeo is equipped with a headlamp and repeatedly warns of tripping hazards such as tree roots or holes in the ground. Only a handful of Aye-Aye roam the wild here in the region. To track them down, the guides use a trick.
They attach a coconut to selected trees and hope that the shy animal won't be able to resist the temptation and venture out from cover to snack on their favorite food.
So a small group of lemur fans squats in the dark on the sodden jungle floor and waits for the supposedly ugliest animal in the world. Luckily, this one doesn't know anything about its devastating reputation and stalks it.
In the glow of Romeo's headlamp, his eyes light up like spherical mini spotlights in the bushes. Then the guy moves into the cone of light. The mottled gray hair sticks out like a scratching sponge, the ears hang large and floppy over the shoulders and a pointed mouth with protruding teeth opens under the bulbous nose.
It really isn't a beauty, but the actual scary factor only comes to light at second glance. The Aye-Aye presents its spindly fingers, from which an extremely long middle finger protrudes. With this bony XXL pen, it drums and knocks around on the tree bark at a rapid pace when looking for food. This is how it discovers insects and larvae and begins to fish and peel for the prey with its overly long clawed finger, which it can heat up to increase sensitivity.
He bites open the coconut on the tree with his strong beaver teeth, which grow back for a lifetime. Then he pokes in with his claw like a drill and fishes out the pulp.
The aye-aye probably doesn't care that people find him ugly. Worse, his bizarre appearance and demeanor has earned him a reputation among many Malagasy for bringing death and mischief. In many places where the toddy night owl is sighted, attempts are made to capture and kill him to ward off bad luck.
Fear of the aye-aye varies from region to region. Sometimes it is considered a bad omen when an aye-aye sits on the roof of a house, sometimes when it looks at someone or points at them with their middle finger. In such cases, according to the fatal superstition, killing the little lemur is supposed to remedy the situation, whereby the whole animals or their tails are often hung up on sticks by the wayside.
According to popular belief, if strangers walk by and see the aye-aye or its tail, they will take bad luck with them. In some areas, the lemur is even eaten, but only after evil has been cast out of it by means of magical songs.
Where the Aye-Aye got its bad reputation from is not exactly documented. His solitary nocturnal life may have contributed to this, as could his bizarre physique. It is also often seen near graves. There are trees that may not be felled for religious reasons, but offer the Aye-Aye many insects.
Luckily, the Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve doesn't believe these scary stories. The Aye-Aye, as we know here, does not bring death, but tourists.
How to get there: The Akanin'ny Nofy Reserve in eastern Madagascar can be reached from the port city of Toamasina after a three-hour boat ride across the Pangalane Canal.
Accommodation and booking: The two "Palmarium" lodges offer beautiful and comfortable accommodation with direct access to the fine sandy beach of Lake Ampitabe and to the Akanin'ny Nofy reserve, where lemurs can be observed, from 60 euros per person in a double room .
The lodges offer night walks to see the Aye-Aye lemurs. Booking, for example, as part of a round trip through Madagascar with the Africa specialist Abendsonne Afrika (www.abendsonneafrika.de) or with the adventure travel specialist Diamir (www.diamir.de).
The local provider Authentic Madagascar Tours, which specializes in German-speaking guests, promises authentic experiences and sustainable tours: www.authentic-madagascar-tours.com