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October 2012 - Introduction


Madagascar is the land of “mora mora,” meaning that everyone takes life slow. This national attitude can prove quite challenging because it means that, invariably, plans that you think you've made don't quite materialise, promises and bookings made turn out to be “definitely maybes” and time is often wasted waiting for things to happen. So it might come as no surprise that even during the planning stages, things didn't exactly go to erm, plan..


A group of us on a birdwatching forum began planning a trip to Madagascar in February 2012 for October 2012. The plan was to do it on a very tight budget, so overlanding between sites, rather than flying. One group had 4 weeks, so would go out two weeks in advance and do the north of the island and then I and another guy would join them in Tana for the second half. However, these plans went south in August after I returned from Mana Pools, when I looked again at the itinerary and got advice from some experts at Bird Fair, including Deirdre Vrancken at Birding Africa.


This highlighted that, after initially setting our priorities as "doing a few good sites in depth", the trip had descended into a "race round the island to see as many endemics as possible". The itinerary had changed and one key site I wanted to do, Andasibe where Indri and Diademed Sifaka can be found, had been moved to the first half of the trip in favour of adding in Kirindy and Berenty to the southern half. I worked this out and it appeared that, of 14 days we'd only have 4 1/2 days actually at the reserves and the rest would be spent traveling. I tried in vain to tell them that the itinerary wouldn't work as it was (it was one day over the time we had for one thing) but it fell on deaf ears. For example the trip to Berenty involved a 5-day detour for one full day at the site. Another loony plan was to drive back from Ranomafana on the 3rd to catch our flight back at 12.40 PM the same day- a 9 hour drive at least! We would have had to travel through the night in order to do that and on the roads in Madagascar night driving is definitely not something that should be attempted.


So I decided to bow out and searched around for other providers, wishing the group well in their endeavours. I looked at local guides, local operators and also international operators. A couple of people recommended Jenita Jaozandry and I was able to speak to one of these guys who is a vet in the UK. Feeling reasonably confident that he was trustworthy and could deliver my trip to my very tight budget we agreed the following itinerary:


Day 1:21/10-arrive in Tana,drive down to Andasibe(3h),followed by a nocturnal walk. Overnight Indri lodge.

Day2:22/10-all day visit of Andasibe. We'll have a quite long hike to get to the place where we can see the helmet vanga and lemurs. Overnight camping.

Day3:23/10-we continue our visit around Andasibe and visit the lemurs island at Vakona Forest Lodge, overnight in Moramanga (just 20km from Andasibe and on our way up to Tana and the south).

Day4:24/10-Travel to Ialatsara, followed by night walk overnighting at Lemur Forest Camp.

Day5:25/10-Morning in Ialatsara, drive to Ranomafana followed by night walk.

Day6:26/10-All day visit in Ranomafana and night walk.

Day7:27/10-half day visit of Ranomafana and drive to Anja, visit Anja and back to Ambalavao for overnight in Hotel Boungainvillier.

Day8:28/10-Early drive to Isalo, followed by visit of Isalo, Overnight in Orchidee hotel.

Day9:29/10-Morning visit of Isalo followed by drive to Zombitse with short visit. Drive on to overnight in Ifaty Bamboo Club Hotel.

Day10:30/10-Early morning visit of Ifaty spiny forest; Afternoon free to enjoy the beach, snorkeling etc. Overnight Bamboo Club hotel.

Day11:31/10-Early morning drive to Toliara to get boat transfer to Anakao. Then spend the rest of the day in Anakao Beach. Overnight hotel Longo Vezo.

Day12:01/11-Visit the island of Nosy ve for nesting tropic birds and snorkelling, Overnight hotel Longo Vezo.

Day13:02/11-Drive to Tsimanapetsotsa followed by visit of this park drive back to Anakao. Overnight hotel Longo Vezo.

Day14:03/11-Drive back to Toliara to connect with evening flight back to Tana, visiting the arboretum.

Day 15 04/11 - flight home at 12.40PM.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Day 1 21st October Mini Mouse Lemurs and Siberian Hamsters

The long journey was made more pleasant when I met Robin and his family who were returning to Madagascar with a substantial aid package for a local school. We spent a bit of time chatting about the different parks and about his work, he works for McLaren. We arrived early into Nairobi, which didn't matter because our flight was actually delayed leaving for Tana, owing to a delayed flight from Mumbai containing some connecting passengers. This delay was not overly onerous and we departed only about 40 minutes later than planned.


As we flew over Tanzania we had an awesome view of Mount Kilimanjaro. We made our way over the coastline of Madagascar and I was greeted by the most surreal vista. Tributaries ran brick red with soil and as they coalesced they traced shapes resembling giant baobabs. Madagascar's life-blood seemed to be bleeding out, creating a stark contrast wherever the red rivers met the turquoise ocean.


As we turned inland we passed over barren landscapes, until finally we began to see a bit of greenery as we made our way in to land. We touched down and were quickly through immigration. A visa is required, which can be obtained for free on arrival. Robin had promised me some pens for any kids I might meet, so I waited for them to collect all their supplies. Jenita was also there waiting for me, which is always a great relief whenever I book directly with a local guide! Also, Kevin and the birding group were there picking up Kelvin so we had a quick chat about how their trip had gone so far. It turns out the itinerary had changed, and was continuing to change over the time they were there, well it's Madagascar and mora mora is to be expected. They had also dipped on a few key species. So I wished them well for the second half of the trip and thanked Kevin for taking the time to meet me.


After collecting the pens from Robin, and wishing his family a good trip, we were on our way. An Alpine Swift shot overhead as we left Tana. We stopped on the outskirts of Tana for lunch and then carried on. We didn't do much birdwatching between sites, so the first birds I saw were just basically seen from the car and when we stopped for comfort breaks. Yellow-billed Kites soared on the breeze over farmland. As we passed rice paddies, abundant Cattle Egrests could be seen catching a meal as they deftly weaved between the hooves of the local zebu (cattle). These were interspersed with larget Great and Dimorphic Egrets. We passed several heronrys on our way up into the rainforest. The road twisted and turned as we made our way towards Andasibe. Madagascar Bee-eaters uttered their fluted conversations as they zipped about on the wing. A bright scarlet-chested gem shone out from a perch in some trees by the roadside as we got closer to Andasibe. Our first Forest Fody!


Andasibe-Mantadia National Park with its 154 km² encompasses two distinct areas: the small Réserve Spéciale d'Analamazaotra (popularly known by the old French name of the nearby town and railway station, Périnet) in the south next to Andasibe village and the much larger Parc National de Mantadia to the north. Both parts belonged to the same humid forest, but because of human activities are now divided in two. The park was created in 1989.


We arrived at Indri Lodge late afternoon and Jenita left me to settle in whilst he went to find our guide. I had a quick look around the grounds and discovered two more gems, the bottle green, Madagascar Green Sunbird, and the tiny Souimanga Sunbird flitting between the flowers. Madagascar White Eyes gleaned insects off leaves as they made their way through the taller trees and Madagascar Wagtail, reminiscent of our grey wagtail tweeted from the rooftops. The fluting Madagascar Black Bulbul sang from high perches and was joined by Madagascar Magpie Robin which foraged on the ground for grubs. As the sun began to set, the Indris began to make their haunting cries, which filled me with anticipation for the next day.


Jenita returned to say our guide was just finishing up and would be with us soon to start our night walk, just outside the park. Night walks used to be allowed in the park, but no longer. He also broke some bad news, we would need a new guide for the rest of our time here. This was because the previous client of our guide for tonight, who was going to guide us for the following two days, had decided to stay on for a few days. So he was obliged to continue guiding this person instead of us. My first experience of mora mora! This guide had, however, given Jenita the name of another English-speaking guide who was available.


We began our night walk, which proved to be very productive. Several groups of people were lined up and down the road, near to the entrance to Analamazaotra, flashlights scouring the vegetation on either side looking for nocturnal creatures, mainly for the eye-shine giving away a lemur, or the fluorescent glow of chameleons as well as the odd amphibian or bird. The first lemur we found was up a rather slippery vegetated slop, I was very conscious that I didn't want to slip and twist an ankle or damage my camera on my first day out, so I took it very carefully getting up there. The reward for the effort was the tiny Goodman's Mouse Lemur, one of the island's smallest lemurs. These cute little lemurs, several of which we saw on our night walk, seemed incredibly relaxed, despite crowds of rowdy tourists sticking their I-phones practically up to poor creatures' noses in order to get a clear shot. In fact, with my 50-200 lens I was having to keep to a much more respectable distance, as I hadn't anticipated how approachable this diminutive lemur would be.



PA214398 Goodman's Mouse Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


This gives you a feel for the bad behaviour these little mouse lemurs were subject to:


And a clearer view:


The red eye-shine betrayed the presence of an Eastern Avahi (also known as Woolly Lemur). I managed to just about get it on film, it's eyes glowing brightly and it's just about possible to make out the white thigh patches and get a general impression of the shape of this compact, vertically clinging lemur. But it was just too far to get a clear shot with my camera.



I'd bought a new external flash for my camera and this came in handy when we spotted another lemur high up in the trees. This turned out to be Furry-eared (Crossley's) Dwarf Lemur. This small lemur is bigger than a mouse lemur and adopts a more horizontal posture when making it's way through the branches. It's dark eye rings and nose make it quite distinctive.



PA214427 Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Video of Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur:



We also shone a light on some of the chameleons, Short-horned Chameleon and Nose-horned Chameleon. So, three lemurs up after our first night walk. This was shaping up to be a great trip!



PA214433 Calumma brevicorne- Short-horned Chameleon by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA214402 Nose-horned Chameleon by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




PA214408 Boophis viridis- Green Bright Eyed Frog by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Back at the lodge it was time for a drink and some dinner. While I waited to be served, I spotted what looked like a Siberian Hamster (aka Black, or possibly Brown Rat) run behind the bar, and then later another rodent-like critter scuttling around under the sofas as one of the staff fiddled with the TV.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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I wonder how your colleagues on the original trip fared compared to you with sightings. Love the first lemur photo especially. You can have the Siberian Hamsters!! :D

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Siberian Hamsters! :lol: Miaow!


There are going to be a lot of wonderful creatures in this report and I have been looking forward to it.

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Fascinating, and without big game. Must have quite a different feel to it all.

Looking forward to more

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Well, I do know how the other group got on. More on that at the end of my report! ;) I have added a few videos, Youtube uploads are being slow, But check back for more before the next installment, still got a vid of Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur to add to this episode.


ETA: OK Furry-eared Dwarf now added (and I don't mean Warwick Davis ;) ).

Edited by kittykat23uk
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I am really enjoying your trip report, pics and vids...bringing back some very good memories and making me think about a return trip to Mad! I can't wait to see the Ranomafana leg since we didn't go there. More, please!

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Thanks Everyone!


Day 2 22nd October – On the trail of Fosa

We had initially planned to hike and camp to look for Helmet Vanga on day 2, presumably in Mantadia, but before I left the UK Jenita advised that a bridge was out so we couldn't go. Instead, we'd planned to visit the nearby Analamazaotra Special Reserve for the next day. With the problem we had with the guide, and with having done a lot of traveling, I didn't particularly object to the proposed 07.00 start time, which gave me time to have some breakfast.


In any case I woke at dawn and already the haunting call of the indri was ringing out across the forested hills. I got dressed and had a walk around the grounds but didn't spot anything new, although I did manage to photograph a lot of the common birds seen around the lodge.



PA224462 Madagascar Green Sunbird by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224493 Madagascar White-eye by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA224500 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Over breakfast I got chatting to a group of people who had visited Mantadia the day before and had seen mating fosas. Apparently they had been there the previous day as well. So, having read that fosa tend to stick to the same area for a few days when mating, I thought it would be good to chance our luck there and leave the indris for our second full day in the park.


I had previously sounded Jenita out about Mantadia and he raised concerns about going there because there has recently been quite a bit of cobalt mining in the area, so much so that some diademed sifakas have been relocated to Analamazaotra Special Reserve. But Mantadia is still worth visiting for the birds as well as some lemurs and talking to the group over breakfast I was convinced there was much to see there. So I pretty much insisted that we go there first, despite not really having planned for it.


We met Veronique, our new guide and watched a gorgeous pair of Blue Couas foraging in a tree, whilst Jenita organised our permits for Mantadia. After which, we were on our way. We headed past Vakona Lodge and up a really badly rutted track towards the primariy forest of Mantadia. At times I wasn't sure if our small car was going to make it, as the track was so bad. We spent quite a bit of time getting there, it took at least an hour and a half and if we had planned for it I would have asked to leave at first light. We would probably have seen more birds that way.


Speaking of which, we came across a large group of birders who had stopped to watch a group of little black birds flitting about in the bushes near a small stream. Standing on a rather rickety bridge, I tried to get on to the birds too. The guides are really good at trying to find you the best position to view any animal or bird from and Veronique lined me up to try and get a good view of what turned out to be Velvet Asities. At this moment, the birds decided not to play ball and dropped down into thicker vegetation. So unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to fully appreciate this little gem.


We searched for a brief while, but with the prospect of mating fosas on my mind I was just as keen as my guides to carry on. We arrived at the entrance to Mantadia, the trail we planned to take seemed to be one of the smaller ones at the far end of the park. However, just as I had begun to head off with Veronique, Jenita called us over as he had spotted Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemurs on the opposite side of the road. These densely-furred compact grey lemurs specialise in eating bamboo, hence their name. They have a rather cute rufous crown to their heads. We watched as the small group ran along some horizontal tree branches and then bounded off away from the road.



PA224505 Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224507 Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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As we lost sight of them, we turned and headed back towards the start of the trails. The first thing our eagle-eyed guide spotted was a Scaly Ground-Roller, but sadly it all I caught was the briefest glimpse of the bird as it flushed into deeper cover. We tried to no avail to relocate it. We also caught sight of a Red Forest Rat. Then she located a family of Common Brown Lemurs huddled together high up in the canopy. She advised us to wait with them, whilst she went off in search of other animals. Veronique scoured the area for the fosas but sadly they must have moved on.



PA224517 Red Forest Rat by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA224527 Common Brown Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



Edited by kittykat23uk
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Whilst she was gone I quizzed Jenita, had we already passed the place where the fosas had been seen? Sadly we had and there was no sign of them. That was partly why Veronique had gone back, to scour the area for a second time. After a while she came running back towards us, excited to announce that she'd found "another type of lemur" and to come quickly to see it. So there we were, having walked a fair way along the trail, running as fast as we could, slipping and sliding along narrow forested trails back the way we had come, trying not to trip up over exposed logs or fall through the rickety bridges and clambering up and down slippery slopes, passing several groups of visitors on the way. We finally arrived and she pointed up into the trees where a pair of Black and White Ruffed Lemurs were feeding.



As people came and went we watched and waited. Eventually our patience was rewarded as the lemurs began to descend towards us. The first lemur hesitantly made his way to the base of the tree and jumped down, eager to drink from the little forest stream. I positioned myself on the opposite bank, just a few metres away from this stunning primate. As it lifted it's head it's amber eyes were perfectly framed by it's jet black face. Its woolly white ear tufts and beard adding to its striking appearance.

After the first lemur had it's fill of the cooling liquid it leapt back to the safety of the trees. Confidence raised, its companion then descended for its turn at the brook. I watched with awe until they both retired to the canopy.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Thank you! I was delighted to get so close to them in the wild. They were of course one of the top lemurs I wanted to see on my trip!

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Here is the video of the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs coming to drink:


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As it was now late morning, we headed back to to car and began our drive back to Andasibe. Unfortunately the state of the road got the best of us and we ripped a tyre on the way back. Our driver quickly replaced it and so it did not delay us too much. On the way back, we discussed plans for the afternoon. I had hoped that we could return to Mantadia but Jenita and Veronique didn't feel that we would see much in Mantadia in the afternoon (and I think given what happened with the car they we also not keen to make a return journey). I got the impression that it was quite common for there not to be activities going on in the parks during the afternoons (I suggested an afternoon visit to Andasibe but Veronique also advised against this). The park guides seemed quite surprised when I insisted that we use the time productively. The idea of sitting around a lodge on my own all afternoon was not what I had in mind for my trip. So Jenita suggested that we visit Vakona Lodge in the afternoon and then finish with our planned night walk along the road near the park.


We had lunch at a local lodge and then headed back towards Mantadia and stopped at Vakona Lodge. There is a small island at this lodge where four species of lemurs find sanctuary. Of these, we had seen three of them in the wild already, the beautiful Black and White Ruffed, the Eastern Grey Bamboo and the Common Brown. The fourth is the Red-fronted Brown, closely related to the Common Brown. So closely in fact that the ones on the island interbreed, creating hybrids.


I boarded a canoe for the few metres of water that we needed to cross to get to Lemur Island. It's a touristy thing to do, but I actually really enjoyed my time with the lemurs here. They clambered all over me in the hope of receiving a piece of banana and their fur was soft and plushy. They seemed so gently and confiding, and reminded me so much of my pet bunnies, hankering after tasty treats. Some of the brown lemurs were carrying babies, their little heads popping out of the dense fur, almost as if they were hiding in a pouch. The way they lazed about without a care in the world was reminiscent of sunbathers on a beach. Life is good if you are a Vakona Lodge lemur.



PA224694 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




PA224703 Black and White Ruffed Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224714 Me with Black and White Ruffed Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224798 Me with Brown Lemurs (Red-fronted and Common hybrids) by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




PA224841 Eastern Grey Bamboo Lemur by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224855 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




PA224877 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA224894 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224895 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA223611 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA223562 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


PA223662 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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For the first hour or so I pretty much had the island to myself. This couldn't last of course and soon I was surrounded by rowdy French tourists and the magic quickly evaporated. So I felt it was time to leave.


The next stop was part of the same lodge but the stars of the show were anything but cute and plushy. This was a crocodile farm. We met Robin and Co as they were just finishing their visit and they had been to Perinet that morning and had seen several “Indri Indris”. After a quick catch up our guide arrived and we began our walk around the lake. These crocodiles are native to Madagascar and are believed to be a sub-species of Nile Crocodile. The guide wrapped rocks in leaves and threw them towards a particularly large croc which responded by snapping it's huge jaws as it lunged for a potential meal.







PA223689 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Edited by kittykat23uk
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Vid of the croc going for the rock..



Brief view of Madagascar Kingfisher.



Croc baiting part 2..



A croc that had it's nose bitten off when it was younger.


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We continued our walk and spotted a Madagascar Kingfisher a fair distance away. Then we came to an enclosure where two young Fosa were being displayed. It was sad to see these amazing animals in captivity. Athough the enclosure seemed to be quite roomy, the two fosa didn't seem to be on the best of terms. The guide explained that, as it was mating season, the female was in the mood but the male wasn't interested. I also got the impression that Fosa don't seem to do too well in captivity but a lot of these zoo-type attractions have them because they are so difficult to see in the wild. I snapped a few pics but hoped that they wouldn't be the only fosas I would see.




Madagascar 051 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA223699 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Edited by kittykat23uk
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More vids of Fosa:





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Very interesting report and fabulous images of the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs!!!

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Thanks Rainbirder!


Having seen everything there was to see there, we returned to the lodge, stopping on the way to see another Blue Coua and also another small group of Common Brown Lemurs (these were well-hidden in the forest by the roadside).



After a short period of down time, we headed out on a night walk with Veronique. This walk was longer, but perversely less productive than the previous night, as we began in the village and then walked towards the reserve entrance. Veronique put this down to the moonlight scaring away the lemurs. However, later on I spoke to the group who I'd met at breakfast and that evening they had done the same walk as we'd done the night before and seen exactly what we had seen. So I believe it is simply that one area is more productive than the other for certain animals. We did however see a Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko, a few more chameleons and a very distant Dwarf Lemur- the species is probably the same as the one we saw the day before however, we were told that it was a fat-tailed dwarf lemur which does not appear to be recorded in this area according to the Mammals of Madagascar guide.




PA224945 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224940 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224951 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA224948 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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I wonder how your colleagues on the original trip fared compared to you with sightings. Love the first lemur photo especially. You can have the Siberian Hamsters!! :D


Hi Twaffle,


Ad was one of the guys I was planning to travel with, he has started to write up his trip report: http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=245335


As I mentioned, I would have joined them halfway through, When they arrived back in Tana so for a fair comparison it would be good to read from there (once he has written it). But of course the whole thing it will be a good read. :)

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Thanks for the link, will go look.


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23rd October Day 3 – Siren Song and Spectacular Sifakas

After some negotiation, we settled on a 06.30 start. I woke to a very foggy morning which didn’t seem particularly favourable to birdwatching or photography. Our car had also been blocked in during the night, but my driver deftly threaded it like a needle between the narrow gap that remained. Veronique was waiting for us and we were on our way.


After sorting out our permits we entered Analamazaotra Special Reserve. At first the trails seemed flatter than those in Mantadia, wider and better maintained. We found a small party of Madagascar Paradise Flycatchers including two gorgeous white and black males, decked out with their long tail streamers. The second male we saw was sitting on a nest covered in lichen and mosses. Then Veronique pointed out a rainbow coloured Parson's Chameleon.



PA234955 Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA234965 Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA234967 Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA234973 Parson's Chameleon by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



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At an abandoned fish farm, Veronique searched in vain for a boa. The cool misty weather had probably delayed the snake’s emergence. We did however, view a tiny tree frog, which I think was Guibemantis "bicalcaratus" that retreated down the funnel of a leaf as I tried to snap a picture. We also spotted a Madagascar Turtle Dove.

The haunting wail of the indri pushed us on, but these primates proved elusive, leading us on a merry dance as we followed their siren song. We left the flat trails and began to climb up into the forested hills. We trekked for what seemed like hours, without really stopping to search for other birds or wildlife. We seemed to be the only people in the whole park, the indris were calling all around us, but frustratingly sounded like they were just across the next valley. Eventually the calls ahead of us got louder and we knew we were on the right track. Soon we started to see other people who must had approached from a different trail.


We arrived to see a small family group of eight Indris had attracted quite a crowd of onlookers. Unfortunately it seemed like the majority of these tourists did not have a clue about how to behave around sensitive animals and they were particularly rowdy. The guides constant shushing seemed to have little effect on their behaviour. To their credit, the indris did not seem too bothered by the noise and continues to feed on the vegetation. Some lazed about in the tops of the trees, whilst others treated us to closer views as they deftly leapt between the trees. The Indri Indri is a real stunner of a lemur, decked out in its black and white livery, fading to greys and creams on its back. It is the largest extant species and differs from any other lemur in that it doesn’t have more than a little stump of a tail.



PA234980 Indri by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




PA235124 Indri by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


The Malagasy people have many myths relating to the Indri, which to them is known as Babakoto. One legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.



PA235076 Indri by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


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