Exploring the Island of Madagascar
Taking a bit of a break from my curriculum ideas series I wanted to share my experience this monthtraveling to Madagascar to tour the south of the island and see the spectacular diversity of animal life this African country has to offer. From lemurs to chameleons the wildlife was stunning. However, Madagascar is an extremely poor country, with the poverty rate at 70%. They also have a huge rate of deforestation, with only 7% of their forests protected. Seeing the swaths of mountains that were almost bare of trees was a shock compared to the lush rainforests of the National Parks we visited, which is what all those mountains used to be covered with. Our guide spoke of villages moving once they cut down all the trees around them ( for firewood, charcoal, building materials) to move to a new area where there were trees, just to cut them all down as well. There seems to be little leadership from the corrupt government to protect the natural areas in Madagascar and to lift its citizens from poverty, with non-profits trying to fill in these gaps. Tourism is one of their best bets to bring more wealth and conservation into the country as tourism drives more protected areas so people will come to visit the lemurs that only call Madagascar home, as well as bringing in needed jobs in the tourism sector. I hope reading through the amazing experiences I had gives you an idea for an adventurous trip.
Seeing lemurs in the wild was the primary driver of my trip as they are only found on the island of Madagascar. Having traveled extensively through mainland Africa during my research trips I have seen and studied many monkey and ape species but never the lemurs. They are a unique group of primates, called the prosimians, and are the most primitive of all primates species, with wet noses like a dog or a cat, night vision and a very good sense of smell. Many species are nocturnal and solitary, which diverges from the majority of monkeys and apes, who are diurnal and live in social groups. Being so different from the other primates I have seen I was excited to explore the world of lemurs .
Our first stop was the forests of Andasibe National Park where I was blown away by the haunting call of the Indri, the largest lemur, it gave me goosebumps while we were hiking through the rainforest to hear these beautiful black and white lemurs make these mournful sounding call to each other. They live in pair bonded family groups and use the calls as a way to signal their territory to other groups of indri.
We also visited two wildlife sanctuaries that are homes to lemurs that were pets. We saw species of bamboo and brown lemurs as well as the sifaka, or dancing lemur, as they had a funny way of running/jumping when they travel on the forest floor. It was a great opportunity to get a closer look at these animals and see their unique personalities and characteristics.
On our travels we stopped in baobab alley, an area full of the other worldly baobab trees. They are huge and actually the inside is more like sugar cane than a typical hardwood tree. Being amongst these giants at both sunrise and sunset was a magical experience.
We then traveled to an area called the Tsingy, which is a collection of limestone cliffs which have an amazing pattern due to erosion. We were lucky to see some sifaka, the second largest lemur, during our 6 hour hike up and down the cliffs, through caves and forests. It was by far the most adventurous hike I had ever been on and I was rewarded with the amazing vistas and views from the tops of the cliffs and the immense reverence I felt while caving and being in the belly of the earth.
Our next major stop was the Ranomafana National Park, were we were to see more lemurs such as, sifakas, bamboo, mouse and red fronted. We did a short night hike to see the nocturnal mouse lemur, the smallest primate, who really does look like a little mouse. We also were on the look out for frogs and chameleons and saw a few as well, but mostly heard the loud calls of the frogs among the most amazing “living” rock wall covered in moss and plants and singing frogs.
The next day we hiked through the forest to see the diurnal lemur species. We were unbelievably lucky to see the rare greater and golden bamboo lemurs. They seemed unfazed that there were so many people around watching them eat leaves and hop from tree to tree. We then were given an amazing gift of two sifakas sitting on the ground ( they only go when it is too hot in the trees) and sat with us for 20 minutes just eating fallen fruit on the forest floor. I could have stayed there all day watching them (I really am in love with primates).
Our last lemur experience was with the ring tailed lemurs, probably the most well known ones, thanks to the movie Madagascar. They one of the only lemurs that lives in large groups (15-25) and spend a lot of their time on the ground, rather than up in the trees. This population is doing very well as almost every adult female had a baby, one even had twins, which is very rare. I will never forget seeing all of them walking with their tails up in the air, such a funny sight.
I feel so lucky to have been able to experience the amazing wildlife Madagascar has to offer and to help in some part, to support its people by contributing to the tourism economy. I am planning to use these experience to create a lemur themed program to add to our offerings. If you have any questions about traveling to Madagascar or are interested I would be happy to chat.
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