Sapphire was just a few days old when we first saw him. Like any other newborn of this kind, he looked small and fragile and clung tightly to his mother. And yet one look was enough to convince us that he was something special. His fur was white instead of grey, and his eyes were a sparkling blue. If any animal had to be called Sapphire, it was he.
The Albino ring-tail does turn up from time to time, but Sapphire wasn't a true albino, for he had black rings on his tail, as well as those striking blue eyes. He was a real rarity, he was fit to play a starring role in the film about the life of ring-tailed in the forest of Berenty, southern Madagascar.
It was September - the time of the year when ringtails have their young. The dry season was lingering, and it was oppressively hot.
We sat in the shade of a giant tamarind tree and watched as Sapphire's companions took their customary siesta. Sunlight filtered through the feathery green leaves, dappling the soft grey fur of the ring-tails as they slumped, like lifeless puppets, over the branches
Our guide to this peaceful scene was a local creature-in-question-expert. He noted that the animal's society is headed by females, among whom there is a fiercely defended, shifting hierarchy. For most of the year (and even in the mating season), the males, who have their own separate hierarchy, are kept under female control. Each individual in a troop knows his or her place on the social ladder and each has a close group of associates, friends and relatives with whom he or she spends most of the time, whether awake or asleep.
Ringtails are the most social of this mammal. They band together in...