If you are keen to see the charismatic lemurs of Madagascar then you are very unlikely to be disappointed on a trip to this fascinating island. I had waited several years for the chance to spot and photograph these unique creatures and I was amazed at just how co-operative they are, compared to some other wildlife species.
My trip took me down the ‘spine’ of the country from Andasibe-Mantadia National Park in the eastern rainforests to the parched coastal village of Ifaty in the south-west. We visited all the national parks and community reserves en route – Ranomafana, Anja, Andringitra, Isalo and Zombitse and in total viewed 12 species of lemur. Each park has its own specialties, and we enjoyed encounters with ring-tailed lemur, Golden bamboo lemur, Eastern Grey bamboo lemur, Milne Edwards sifaka, black and white ruffed lemur, common brown lemur, red-fronted brown lemur, Phaniger sportif lemur, brown mouse lemur, Goodmans mouse lemur, Coquerel’s sifaka and the largest of them all, the Indri, whose haunting cries echo through the forests of Andasibe-Mantadia. At Lemur Island, in the eastern rainforests of Andasibe, we had remarkable photographic opportunities as black and white ruffed lemurs, common brown lemurs and Eastern grey bamboo lemurs posed and paraded for us – even jumping from human shoulder to shoulder to introduce themselves. Whilst this experience did not provide a genuinely wild encounter, it was great fun! For more of a challenge you can head into the primary forests of Mantadia where fewer people visit and sightings of lemurs are less guaranteed. In Anja, a small park near Ambalavoa, we had ring tailed lemurs jumping around our heads in the forest.
The wildlife of Madagascar is fascinating, and in addition to lemurs, we saw a wide variety of reptiles and birds. I suspect there is nowhere better to look for chameleons of all shapes, colours and sizes, particularly on night walks which are possible in several places. Our trip was a little busy to concentrate too much on birding, but keen birders will be enthralled, not just by the variety of birdlife but also the unique sightings that Madagascar offers. Madagascar seems to have its own version of many species of birds – Madagascar kingfisher, Madagascar bee-eater, Madagascar buzzard, Madagascar lovebird – the list goes on. Then there are the rainforest specialities, such as the beautiful Blue Coua, and the drier scrub specialities such as Benson’s rock thrush. The variety of terrain and habitat across Madagascar make it a fascinating birding destination.
However, for many people a trip to Madagascar is not just about the wildlife. Madagascar is one of those countries which is simply worth exploring and experiencing. Ever-changing scenery, friendly and relaxed people (with varied ethnicity and history), wonderful walking and non-stop photographic opportunities can all add greatly to the appeal of Madagascar. And of course, there are many wonderful beaches offering relaxation, whale-watching, snorkelling and scuba diving too.
Travelling around Madagascar can be hard work at times, as distances are great and the tourism infrastructure is not as slick or reliable as it could be, but in many ways this is very much part of the island’s charm and identity.