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Zim Girl

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Madagascar had been on our ‘to do’ list for a long time and for one reason or another kept getting pushed back, so this year we decided to rectify this situation and we are very glad we did.

Madagascar is quite rightly famous for it’s endemic species, particularly the many Lemurs and Chameleons and for me especially, it was all the different species of Chameleon that excited me the most. In fact, given the choice, I would probably rather spend more time watching reptiles than watching the lemurs but don’t worry we saw plenty of those as well!


Initially, deciding which Parks to visit was the hardest part. I sat down and listed the main species in each Park and the pro’s and con’s of getting to each one but really in the end the itinerary wrote itself.  I think the Lemur on the top of most people’s wish list is the Indri and we were no different. So that meant Andasibe-Mantadia was in. Then one of the things we both wanted to see was the famous Tsingy. This can only be seen in two places.  The biggest being the remote Tsingy de Bemaraha on the West or the much more easily accessible Tsingy at Ankarana in the North. So Ankarana was in. Then where else?  Well to get up to the North a flight is needed to Diego Suarez and the nearest NP from there is Amber Mountain. After reading that it is a very scenic park with crater lakes and waterfalls and the best bit, ‘particularly good for herps’, job done, it was in.

So the finished itinerary looked like this.


16th Sept   Air France flight from Manchester to Antananarivo via Paris

                 Overnight at the Relais des Plateaux Hotel

17th Sept   Road transfer to Andasibe-Mantadia NP

                 3 nights at the Vakona Forest Lodge

20th Sept   Afternoon road transfer back to Antananarivo

                 Overnight at the Relais des Plateaux

21st Sept   Internal flight to Diego Suarez and road transfer to Amber Mountain NP

                 3 nights at The Litchi Tree

24th Sept   Road transfer to Ankarana East

                 1 night at Ankarana Lodge

25th Sept   Afternoon road transfer to Ankarana West

                 2 nights at Iharana Bush Camp

27th Sept   Road and boat transfer to Nosy Be for internal flight back to Antananarivo

                 Day room at the Relais des Plateaux

                 Air France night flight back to Manchester


We were very lucky with the weather because although we were going in dry season both Andasibe and Amber Mountain are rainforest parks and I was a bit worried about how wet it might be. I had a big wish list for the various chameleons and geckos which I got all except one species and we saw all the possible diurnal lemurs except one, we even found some nocturnal ones, so very happy!

I started a birding Big Year on ST this year so another quest was to find a few new birds.  We were a bit too early for the main birding season but I managed a few. They can be found here.      http://safaritalk.net/topic/18435-zim-girls-very-tiny-big-year-2018/?page=11


So here is a taster of fur, scales and feathers.






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Looking forward to reading more!


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Looking forward to seeing how your trip compares to our 2014 trip, both from where we visited (Andasibe-Mantadia) and where we didn't (everywhere else!)

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Great photos to start us off. I am looking forward to this report!

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Enjoyed the taster, looking forward to the main course and desert!

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As I'll be going next year I am eager to read this report, although the only place you visited where we will be is Andasibe-Mantadia. But we are staying at the Relais des Plateaux Hotel in Tana!

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A great teaser, really looking forward to this report! 

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Outstanding photos to whet our collective appetite @Zim Girl Hope there's more to come :) 



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Ahh, Mlagasay, .... what tresures it holds, they all will be revealed, in details by words and photos, I look forward with anticipation. The oppening photos are stunners, @Zim Girl!

Do add as much logistic details as possible, please. Madagascar is not that far from Europe.

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21 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

I sat down and listed the main species in each Park and the pro’s and con’s of getting to each one but really in the end the itinerary wrote itself. 


A trip planner after my own heart! :D  


Love the chameleon shot, looking forward to the rest of your report.

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Looking forward to the report, especially the herpetological part!

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Sunday 16th September

The Air France flight was much better than we expected. Mainly due to the fact that we paid for one of the few sets of ‘duo’ seats’ at the back of the plane. Wouldn’t normally want to sit at the back but because we didn’t have any further connections it didn’t matter how long it took to get off the plane and it makes a huge difference having two seats to yourself.  It also helped that snacks were on offer on a ‘help yourself’ basis between the set meals and we were enjoying sandwiches and mini magnums to while away the time.

The plane arrived bang on time at 22.15 and we were met by Lova and Alex, our guide and driver for the next 3 days. They took us to the Relais des Plateaux which was only a 10 minute drive away. This was a perfectly good airport hotel and we enjoyed a big breakfast the next morning before being picked up at 8am.


Saturday 17th September

The rooms all seem to be single storey in a small complex with a separate building housing the restaurant. (Mind you, I could be wrong, we were here on 3 separate occasions but this was the only time in daylight!)





The road journey to Andasibe took around 4 and a half hours. On the way out of Antananarivo (Tana) we passed piles upon piles of bricks alongside the river. Lova explained that the production of kiln-dried bricks was one of the traditional sources of income for the local economy. These eventually gave way to lots of paddy fields, rice being the main crop and food for the Malagasy people.  He pretty much gave us a running commentary for most of the journey about the people, culture, history and politics of the country. He was also more than happy to stop every so often for pictures or if he had spotted an interesting bird.







Every time we stopped Alex was out making sure all the windows were clean, bless him.



One of the traditional practices Lova told us about was Famadihana. This is a reburial ceremony that involves removing the remains of a family relative after 7 years, re-wrapping them in a silk shroud and returning them to the tomb. It is a time for a big party where all the family, friends and neighbours come together to celebrate.

He then got on to circumcision but I will leave it there, although that was to become a factor later in the trip!!


We arrived at Vakona Forest Lodge which was really lovely.  Various bungalows set around a lake within the rainforest with a central dining area in the middle. Our room was a detached bungalow set above the lake with gorgeous views. Inside was a good size bedroom with a separate large bathroom and another single bed to one side which was perfect for laying all our stuff on. There was a wardrobe with hanging space and a fridge inside.


View of the main lodge from our room.





Our bungalow is the last one on the right.







We were to meet Lova for an afternoon walk at 1.45pm so we unpacked and had a quick walk around the lodge grounds.

While we where walking by the lake I noticed a member of staff following us, I turned and smiled at him and he said in broken English – you like animals? Mmm, yes, I said. Snakes?, he said.  Yes.  Big snakes?  Ooh yes!  Come, he said.

So we followed him to the far side of the lake and he points into the bushes.  There, big snake, he says looking very pleased. We looked and there was a boa wrapped around the branches. We turned round to thank him but he had already disappeared.  We couldn’t get too close to it because the bushes were down a bit of a steep incline but great to see all the same. We called him Fred (we call everything Fred) and went to see him every chance we got. He didn’t move much in the 3 days we were there.


Fred the Tree Boa



We met Lova and Alex and took a short drive through Andasibe village and on to where we were going to have our afternoon walk. A small reserve called V.O.I.M.M.A, It was founded by the local community a few years ago as an alternative to the Govt run NP. The abbreviation stands for something unpronounceable but translates roughly as ‘local people love the forest’.  We met our Parks guide, Maurice. All walks into the forest and NP's have to be accompanied by a Parks guide. He would be with us for all our walks until we leave. Well Maurice was an absolute star. Lova had told us he was the head guide for the Andasibe area. I don’t know if that was actually true but he was very, very good and didn’t miss a thing.


We hadn’t been walking that long when he whispered “Indri”, “look up”. There they were, our first Indri. I say first because we were to see them on every walk for the next 3 days but we didn’t know that then.  It was a small group of about 5 and they were spread out, however they were quite close and low down in the trees, so a good sighting. We stayed with them for quite a while and only shared the time with one other couple for a bit of it. Maurice and Lova were in no hurry at all to move us on so we had plenty of time just to sit and watch. At all our sightings over the next few days they were both very happy to let us take all the time we wanted and only intervened if they thought there was a better viewpoint or to give us a bit of info.


Indri  (Indri indri) A diurnal lemur and along with the Sifakas one of the largest. It is the only lemur not to have a long tail. They are categorised as CR (critically endangered).  They pair for life and only give birth to one infant every 2 or 3 years so population growth is slow.  They make a loud wailing noise which we were to hear later on in the trip.

Oh and they look like giant teddy bears:) 















Three of them came together here.





A river runs though this part of the forest which we crossed and followed the forest trails on the other side.



Maurice called out the names of lots of birds, most of which where too quick or high for me to even attempt to take photos of. But for those that are interested they included Paradise Flycatcher, Crested Drongo, Blue Coua, Nelicourvi Weaver, Malagasy Bulbul, White-headed Vanga, Red-tailed Vanga, Common Newtonia, Malagasy White-eye, Magpie-robin and Common Jery (I honestly thought he kept saying Tom & Jerry), shows how much I know about birds and if you are impressed I remembered all those names, don’t be, Lova had kept a running list which he gave us at the end.


Towards the end of the walk Maurice went off trail and pointed to a branch.  Ta, dahh, there was my first chameleon. A male Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii). Endemic to the rainforests of eastern and northern Madagascar. It ties for the title of largest chameleon along with the Oustalet’s chameleon. The Parson’s is heavier while the Oustalet’s is longer. We spent ages just watching it but the light was starting to go so Maurice had to drag me away eventually. We got back to reserve entrance at around 4.45pm and met Alex for the drive back. Back at Vakona, Lova asked us to meet him at 6pm for the nocturnal walk. So it was a fairly full-on schedule but that’s good with us.


So cute!!  This one didn't mind having his photo taken (unlike some of the others we met later on).





There are several options for the nocturnal walks in this area and tonight Maurice wanted to go back into the community reserve.  We met him at the entrance and torches in hand walked back along the forest trails. I think the reserve opens for night walks by request but we didn’t see anybody else there.

All of a sudden Maurice drops to the ground and starts scrabbling in the undergrowth at the side of the trail.  He brings out a Lowland Streaked Tenrec. A surprise find at this time of year as many are inactive in the winter months. Tenrecs are divided into two sub-families, spiny and furred. There are 30 species of Tenrec in total and this one is one of the 5 spiny species and inhabits the eastern rainforests. He held him just for a few seconds so we could take a picture then let him get back to foraging.






Later on Maurice had got a bit ahead of us but started whispering loudly at us to come,come,come, quick.  He had found an Eastern Woolly Lemur up in a tree. A nocturnal species often called by their genus name Avahi. I was too slow for a photo but Adrian just managed to catch it on his phone before it jumped away.



Our last spot of the night was a female juvenile Parson’s chameleon. The walk ended around 8pm.

Adrian's mobile phone pic. (I was still struggling with night photography at this point - I got better later)


We dropped Maurice off in Andasibe village where he lives, and drove back to Vakona Lodge. The routine here is to order your dinner at lunchtime and then it is ready for you when you return from the night walk. So at 9pm we were enjoying a very nice meal after a pretty good first day.

Edited by Zim Girl
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That lodge looks beautiful.

great pictures of the Indri, and of the Chameleons.

And how amazing to see a Tenrec.

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I was sad not to see any tenrecs when I went. One for a future trip I hope! 

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Oh my, how cool the Indris are! Love the Chameleons as well, and Fred is a handsome fellow as well. But the Tenrec tops it for me, such a cool animal. Looks like a great place to beging this trip, and your photos are excellent!

Edited by michael-ibk
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Great start Angie, I hope you're not thinking of swapping your Avatar to an Indri ;);).  As an aside to your words, the Indri have got a big problem in that they have never (as far as I know) even been kept, never mind bred, successfully in closed captivity (as opposed to the "open" captivity of Vacona or Palmarium where we stayed in 2013).  The call of the Indri is so evocative it would be tragic if it disappeared.


That's a great looking Tenrec, we only saw his furry cousin.


Looking forward to more

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Wow, awesome start...Tenrec! So cute!

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First day and things were going well! Lots of unique fauna and great sightings of it too. What a sweet little tenrec.

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Excellent start @Zim Girl - great photos and sightings. I can still remember the eerie haunting calls of the Indri - fascinated by the tenrec and Avahi which I never got to see (didn't even know about the Avahi!).


After Vacona Lodge I went down to Berenty back in 2005 so I'm interested to follow and learn about your trip north.

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Very cool Madagascar tree boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis)! And cool chameleons too! Never heard of the tenrec before but what a odd looking thing.

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Thanks everyone.

Yes, the Tenrec was a really good find thanks to the quick response of Maurice. 

On 10/17/2018 at 7:58 PM, AfricIan said:

As an aside to your words, the Indri have got a big problem in that they have never (as far as I know) even been kept, never mind bred, successfully in closed captivity (as opposed to the "open" captivity of Vacona or Palmarium where we stayed in 2013).  The call of the Indri is so evocative it would be tragic if it disappeared.

As far as I know that's absolutely true. It would be a huge shame. The guides didn't know numbers of Indri in the Park either.

I have a short sound file of their calls I will try to attach later.

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I also shot some video which includes the indri call when I went. They sound like a balloon deflating. 

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Tuesday 18th September


Today we had a 7.30am pick up for an all day walk in the Analamazaotra protected forest.  Andasibe-Mantadia NP is made up of two areas – Analamazaotra Special Reserve (1500ha) and the larger Mantadia National Park (16000ha) which is approx. 1 hour drive north of Andasibe village. This NP is pretty much the best place to see the Indri.

It was a misty start at the lodge but it was to turn into a really glorious day. We did a little bit of birdwatching while waiting to be picked up.



Madagascar Coucal





Chabert's Vanga



Madagascar White-eye





The lodge provided us with a packed lunch ordered the previous night and I think the drive took around 30-40 minutes.

We picked up Maurice on the way and when we reached the visitor centre at the entrance to the Reserve he whizzed us past the queues of tour groups and visitors and out into the forest. The trails in the Reserve are flat and easy but you will probably find yourself going off track to find the groups of Indri and Diademed Sifakas (the other main lemur draw).  These trails can be quite steep but really nothing too difficult.

Right on the other side of the visitor centre, high up in the trees were a small group of Common Brown Lemur.


Common Brown Lemur  (Eulemur fulvus) A mainly diurnal lemur with a large range across various habitats in the North-West and Eastern areas.








We watched these for a bit then walked into the forest with Maurice spotting and commentating at the front and Lova, another pair of eyes at the back. We walked to a small dammed lake called Lac Vert.  Some of the water here is used to feed a research fish farm on the outskirts of the Reserve.





We found most of the birds seen yesterday and also the Madagascar Sparrowhawk, Red Fody, Blue Vanga, Cuckoo Shrike, Madagascar Wagtail, Madagascar Scops Owl and also the Velvet Asity. A male of which was flying quite low down and Maurice was particularly keen for me to get a photo of it. We followed it around but it was too quick for me and kept darting into the trees. “You get it?” said Maurice. “No, but I saw it so that’s ok” I replied.  “Mmm, not good enough” and with that he hustled me off the trail and into the undergrowth. We waited a minute or two then he whispered, “there, there, quick” It was on a branch not too far away, I rattled off a few shots not expecting much as I could hardly see it in the poor light. We walked back onto the trail and I showed him my efforts. He was pleased enough though, and told us he liked seeing this bird in it’s non breeding plumage.

So this one is for Maurice.

Male Velvet Asity



Then we found another Common Brown Lemur.



Next up our second sighting of the Indri.  In fact, during the day we came across them several times.











The rainforest with river running through.





The other Lemur we really wanted to see was the Diademed Sifaka. They are found mainly in Mantadia but a group was translocated back to the Reserve a few years ago. We had to climb a steep trail and make our way through the undergrowth to get to this group. This sighting was the busiest of our entire trip with maybe 20 people there including guides. The Sifakas didn’t seem to be in the least bit bothered though and everyone was really well behaved, not making too much noise etc.


Diademed Sifaka  (Propithecus diadema)  Diurnal and the largest Sifaka. It is classified as Critically Endangered and is endemic to the Eastern rainforests.















We had lunch at a nice quiet spot on a log near the river.



After lunch we found a solitary Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur who took great exception to us looking up at it. It made a really loud screeching noise and quickly jumped from tree to tree. Managed to keep up with it long enough for a few of pictures.


Eastern Lesser or Grey Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus)  Small diurnal lemur that feeds mainly on bamboo. It is classified Vulnerable and the grey sub-species lives only in the Eastern rainforests.









We left the Reserve around 2.30pm and by now it was getting nice and hot. We had a wander around the Visitors Centre and then we drove a short distance to the Orchid Park, which has 11ha of rainforest dedicated to the many species of Orchid found in Madagascar and a small lake. It wasn’t flowering season but in any case we were there to look for chameleons. We found a Perinet or Short-nosed chameleon quite easily then Maurice and Lova spent a while searching through the leaf litter and came up with another creature very high on my wish list, one of the Brookesia stump-tailed or leaf chameleons.


Perinet or Short-nosed Chameleon  (Calumma gastrotaenia)  Endemic to the eastern and central rainforests.



Brown Leaf or Stump-tailed Chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris)  Brookesia  chameleons are the smallest and range in size from 110mm to 30mm across the 30 species. Their tails are short and not prehensile like the other chameleons and they mainly live amongst the leaf litter foraging for small insects.  They feign death when threatened and roll their legs underneath themselves and roll on their side to mimic a dry leaf.  We were lucky enough to find another 3 species of Brookesia later on in the trip.



Mobile phone pic



Another good day. We then had around a couple of hours to relax at the lodge before meeting Lova for the nocturnal walk at 6pm.

This time we started walking from the old Perinet railway station near Andasibe village along the roadside. Here we were looking for Mouse Lemurs.  We saw several instances of eye shine but nothing close until Adrian suddenly gave a shout that he had found something. We all went over and Maurice pulled back some branches – there was a Goodman’s Mouse Lemur.


Goodman's Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara)  One of the smallest mouse lemurs only weighing around 45-48 grams. It was described in 2005 by american biologist Steven M Goodman and is endemic to the Andasibe area. 





Happy with that we then concentrated on our scaly friends. We found a Short-horned chameleon, a Nose-horned chameleon and a female Parson’s chameleon.


Short-horned Chameleon (Calumma brevicorne)  Known locally as the Elephant-eared chameleon. Look at the size and shape of the lobes behind the eyes. Endemic to the east in found in or near mid-altitude rainforest.



Same chameleon from the other side.



Nose-horned Chameleon (Calumma nasutum)  Small arboreal chameleon endemic to the east.



Female Parson's Chameleon 



By then we had walked as far as the Orchid Park. Nocturnal walks can be made here by arrangement. We walked around the small lake. On the other side Lova asked us to wait on the trail while he and Maurice went into the forest looking for something. They were in there quite a while and we did laugh at this, obviously whatever they were looking for wasn’t in it’s usual hiding place.
Eventually they emerged and told us to follow them. The prize – a mossy leaf-tailed gecko – you have no idea how much I wanted to see one of these. I had been going on about them to Lova since we met him. And we were right, this one wasn’t in it’s usual hunting place so took a bit of finding. Now this was great, but not quite what I was after and trying not to sound ungrateful I said to Lova that I really wanted to see one during the day. He was a bit surprised saying “but he is awake and hunting”. I know and that’s brilliant but it’s when they are not doing anything is when they are really amazing (see later in trip report). But then we did spend ages watching him and taking photos.


Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko  (Uroplatus sikorae)  There are 14 species of Uroplatus.  They are a master of disguise as you will see later on. Simply one of the most amazing creatures in Madagascar!

This one just did not want to show his face and I struggled to get all the detail in one shot hence the 2 photos.





By then it was 8pm and time to finish. Alex had driven down to the entrance of the Orchid Park to pick us up and take us back to the lodge..

Edited by Zim Girl
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Wow, fabulous especially all those chameleons!  Its going to be a long year...actually exactly one year from today! :D


A couple of technical questions: Were you using flash for the nocturnal photos, or is it just by spotlight?  I had wondered about the etiquette of using flash with the lemurs, especially.  Also, were you using a macro lens?

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Great report, thanks.  Starting to think about Madagascar so this is really useful.

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