Inside Madagascar: Part Three

Nature, Wildlife and Guides

When I finally sat down to write this piece, I got into a situation of a long blank staring process at my laptop screen. It was difficult trying to write about something so profound and so special to share with the readers. I struggled. Everytime I recalled my memories, my heart got overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. It is particularly bad at the moment due to my recent brush with Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Madagascar’ documentary, which was one of the top reasons that brought me to this amazing island.

Despite all my struggles and brain blocks, I somehow motivated myself to complete the final part to my Inside Madagascar series with the hope that someday it will inspire you to make your own memories in Madagascar.

Nature
While travelling around Madagascar, one quickly realises the truth behind the highly circulated fact, that only 10% of their rainforests still remain. The good news is; the locals have taken it upon themselves to ensure that this 10% remains for a long time to come.

The nature areas are a mixture of national parks, nature reserves and community-managed forests. Most of the rainforests I visited, comprised of both primary (mostly undisturbed) and secondary (disturbed in some way, e.g. human activities), although primary appeared to be limited. Others had a variety of terrains.

Difficulty of terrains or length of tracks for walking also varied widely between each place. My biggest frustration was, my inability to gain more information about the walks. For some reason, I was never successful in extracting this information from our guides. Everytime I asked this question, I either got a silent nod or perhaps an answer which was not completely true. In saying this, my body was not of an iron woman category either. I was still recovering from my work as an intern at Umphafa reserve in South Africa, dealing with side effects from malaria medication, and have severe height phobia. It was a lot to deal with. Despite these shortcomings, I still managed to cope with almost all walks. The longest walk was in Isalo National Park, a total of approximately 15 km. Parts of this walk involved narrow paths around steep cliffs, which required a lot of hand holding with my guide. Poor guy, I squeezed the life out of his hands. I would have held on to anything to survive this walk as it was incredibly worth it. Isalo National Park is breath taking and out of this world. It scores very high for its unique vegetation and landscape. During the walk, our guide pointed out a number of plants with highly valuable medicinal properties.

Isalo National Park

My other most favourite national park was, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. On the first day of our arrival, we did a night walk which left us with jaws hanging and hungry for more. The next day, we drove to Mantadia National Park (primary rainforest) for a day walk and saw our very first Indri, one of Madagascar’s largest lemur.

Indri

Many of the nature walks involved hours, so the guides diligently arranged for packed lunches and snacks for the trips. This did attract additional costs, but again, a worthy investment. After all the perspiration and fatigue from humid conditions, an egg sandwich and more water felt like a hot meal at a five-star restaurant.

As we visited during the rainy season, mosquitoes were rampant. As mentioned in part two, even ‘Bushman’, the repellent which previously melted my flip flops, was not enough to completely keep me from being foraged alive. Constant reapplication was key. In some places, leeches were galore too. Once, I had six or seven latched on around my waist. While trying to desperately to remove them, I accidentally dropped one into my pants (more like my undergarment) and never found it. One cannot imagine the stress which ensued for the rest of the day wondering where did the leech go. Ahh…the joys of being in nature 🙂

I particularly found the community managed forests very interesting. The locals care and maintain their patch of forests. Money obtained from local guiding and souvenir sales is then invested back into the village and the upkeep of the forests. A super win-win situation. When you talk to the locals, you can easily sense their pride and devotion to their forest to ensure that it remains intact. They do watch you like an eagle and don’t tolerate any insensitive behavior such as littering or man-handling their wildlife. To me, that was fantastic!

Anja Community Reserve

When I started my trip and before my body started reacting to the malaria medication, I kept detailed notes of the nature visits. Details such as name of the nature park, list of wildlife and names of guides. This slowly dwindled to a halt as the days passed and my tolerance to the meds became weaker. I will share what I have in the next section.

Wildlife
Witnessing Madagascar’s wildlife is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. The first time I heard the Indris calling from the canopy’s, it sent chills down my body and etched it solidly in my memories. It was haunting, mesmerizing and thrilling. Every place we visited, we were greeted with a myriad of species. To the point, the whole thing felt somehow staged. The species which was least spotted were the chameleons. We did see a number of them, but not as many species compared to the lemurs.

I don’t know how to describe this, but seeing a lemur in the wild, is insanely special. There is something about their gentle nature and face. It leaves you feeling very desperate and aware of just how important the remaining 10% of nature is in Madagascar. You know that when this disappears, it is not only sad, it is incredibly devastating. From my observations, tourism appears to be the current lifeline in securing what is left. Hence the unique system of guide hires, more details in the next section.

One of the most outstanding wildlife experience, was in ‘Reserve Experimentale De Vohimana’, in the Mantadia region. It was pouring cats and dogs as we drove to this small village to find the elusive endangered Calumma gallus chameleon. A density of only 13 individuals/ha was previously recorded in the Mantadia region (Brady and Griffiths 1999). This species has been severely impacted by habitat loss resulting from agriculture clearing, timber harvesting and cattle grazing.

After an hour of searching, the local wildlife guide came running back to the car motioning us to get out and run forth. We knew he found it. With no time to think, we sprang out of the car and ran towards him while splashing puddle water everywhere. But who cares right? I was about to see an endangered chameleon species! And there it was, sitting comfortably on the guide’s finger and eyeballing us from the corner. I stood there with awe and excitement. You know that this moment is precious. After a couple of minutes, this endangered individual was placed back to its original spot. Of course, it would have been even better if it hadn’t been removed from it’s original spot in the first place.
I know I sound like a broken record, but everything about the wildlife in Madagascar is special. I hope you enjoy some selected images from my trip below and a partial list of my wildlife sightings. As the bird list is extensive, I have only included the lemurs and chameleons and anything that was pointed out to be a rare sighting.

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

  • Lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus)
  • Goodman’s mouse lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara)
  • Eastern woolly lemur (Avahi lanige)
  • Nose-horned chameleon (Calumma nasutum)
  • Stump-tailed chameleon

    Stump tailed chameleon

Mantadia National Park

  • Indri (Indri indri)
  • Eastern gray bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus)
  • Madagascan pygmy kingfisher (Corythornis madagascariensis)
  • Painted mantella frog

V.O.I, M.M.A (Andasibe) – Community managed secondary forest

  • France’s sparrowhawk (Accipiter francesiae)
  • Indri (Indri indri)
  • Common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus)
  • Short-horned chameleon (Calumma brevicorne)
  • We also saw the “unknown” tree. To date, it is yet to be classified and the only one that exists in this place. The tree is considered to be sacred by the locals and is protected. Due to these reasons, I did not take a picture of it. There was also an altar in front of it with offerings and animal sacrifices.

Analamazaotra Special Reserve (part of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park)

  • Pill millipede
  • Common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus)
  • Indri (Indri indri)
  • High number of bird species

Reserve Experimentale De Vohimana

  • Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii)
  • Short-horned chameleon (Calumma brevicorne)
  • Calumma gallus

Ranomafana National Park

  • Golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus)
  • Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus)
  • Red-fronted lemur (Eulemur rufifrons)
On the way into Ranomafana National Park

Anja Community Reserve

  • Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta)

Isalo National Park

  • Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi)

Guides
Travel guide
When you go to Madagascar, it is crucial to have a travel guide to bring you around. We did encounter a few individuals who had arrived in Madagascar seeking a backpacking experience and ended up hiring a guide. From the brief research that was done to plan my trip, the importance of hiring a guide was quickly apparent from the overwhelming number of feedback shared on travel websites. Despite this, I was still a bit disgruntled and skeptical about hiring a guide. Luckily I listened to my head (and my husband) and not my heart. Having a guide there took a lot of stress away. I felt safe as the guide was a wealth of information and knowledge who made sure we returned home in one piece. There was no way I could have driven under the road conditions, or knew where to eat and which local wildlife guide to hire. So, it was both an excellent decision and investment. We were extremely fortunate to have a star guide and driver who made our travel experience so much richer. They shared insights into the political environment, their culture, food, and even introduced us to local folk songs.

Wildlife guide
Each time you visit a nature reserve or national park, an additional local wildlife guide need to be hired. We were told by our guide that one cannot enter the natural areas unless accompanied by the local wildlife guides. These guides were mostly from nearby villages. The fees we paid varied widely and depended largely on their skill sets and experience.

The depth and wealth of your wildlife experience appears to be dependent on the skill set of your wildlife guide and their trackers. You don’t always have a tracker on the trip, but these guys can fish out any lemurs in a patch of rainforest. It was incredible to see them in action.

We also learnt that guidebooks are a rare commodity to the wildlife guides due to the cost and lack of access to bookshops. So, what they had were mostly donated by tourists. Honestly, with their skills, I am not even sure they need one.

This concludes my three part Inside Madagascar series. There is still so much information not covered in my pieces. I tried my best to pick the essentials which may aid your travel plan or hopefully inspire you to visit this island someday. Till my next piece, I shall leave you with this video which inspired my trip to this amazing part of this world.

All image credits: Deniz Ortac
Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Inside Madagascar: Part Three

  1. Wonderful piece Geetha, really interesting and useful to know. Been at the top of my bucket list for a long time and this makes me want to go even more. Seeing the lemurs in the wild must have been a profound experience – they do possess a truly special quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Gordon. I sincerely hope that you will visit Madagascar one day. I really wanted to share a nice video of the Indris calling, but realized videos cannot be uploaded. The lemurs truly fascinated me 🙂 and I hope to return one day to continue this journey.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary Schoer

    Thanks for the exciting virtual excursion Geetha. Doubt I will ever get there having been to different parts of Africa twice. I used to teach about lemurs eta as a biology teacher, and yes, David Attenborough made it come alive for students and myself also. he will be irreplaceable.

    Liked by 1 person

Love to share a thought or leave a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s