MADAGASCAR: Leaping Lemurs, Guest Post by Owen Floody, Part 1

Diadamed Sifaka, Madagascar

In June 2016, our friend Owen Floody planned and led a trip to Madagascar.  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken several trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He has been a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is part 1 of a short reflection on his Madagascar trip and a few of his excellent photographs. 

One of the world's places that might best be seen soon, in case it is not preserved over the long term, is Madagascar.  The history and isolation of this large island off the east coast of southern Africa have blessed it with some wildlife that is unique (especially its lemurs) along with some that is unusual though not unique (e.g., its array of colorful chameleons). Madagascar also presents a wide range of habitats, including several types of rainforest at different altitudes (coastal to montane), dry deciduous forests, grasslands, deserts (“spiny forests”) and large expanses of sharp limestone pinnacles (“tsingy”). 


Alas, some if not all of these habitats are at risk, in part due to the widespread use of charcoal for cooking: Most or all of Madagascar’s unprotected forests already are gone, increasing the pressure on the protected areas that remain.  Tourism can help in this regard, by giving local residents a stake in forest preservation.  Evidence for such beneficial effects can be seen, for instance, in the requirement for local (in addition to national) guides and in the development of community-based wildlife reserves.  The net effect is that a visit to Madagascar can have the immediate effect of exposing you to some wonderful scenery and wildlife at the same time that it encourages the preservation of these resources for future visitors.
Bamboo lemur
Madagascar’s roads can make it a challenging place to tour. On my recent trip, we began with an abortive trip from the capital Antananarivo (Tana) to a pair of rainforest parks directly to the east, hoping to see and, even more to the point, hear the dawn chorus of the indri, the largest of the lemurs.  Alas, what we discovered is that the indri hunker down and clam up in the rain.  Still, this excursion permitted us to visit the semi-captive lemurs on Lemur Island, as well as the residents of a local reserve specializing in chameleons and other reptiles.
Once back in Tana, we boarded a flight for Morondava, on the west coast.  From there, we drove north with the goal of visiting Madagascar’s premier tsingy site, the Tsingy de Bemaraha (a World Heritage site).  Along the way, we were enchanted by Baobab Avenue, an amazing concentration of huge baobab trees.  
Baobab Avenue
In addition, we stopped to hike within the dry deciduous forest at Kirindy Reserve, looking both for lemurs and their major predator, the fossa, which despite appearances is a type of civet or mongoose, not a cat.
Nevertheless, it was the tsingy that stole the show. Within the park, we took two hikes, through the Petit Tsingy and Grand Tsingy.  Both provided great opportunities to view the tsingy from above (viewpoints), within (as we hiked along gaps in the formations), sometimes even below (as we crawled through short caves or tunnels within the rock).  This variety of perspectives helped to impress upon us the height of the limestone pinnacles.  Combining this with the aerial extent of the formations emphasized at the overlooks, one could not fail to come away from this site in awe of its stark majesty.

Once we tore ourselves away from the tsingy, we retraced our steps, first to Morondava, then on to Tana, where the second major phase of our trip began. 

Note: I devised the trip itinerary, which was ably implemented by Cortez, USA, a California-based tour-operator that specializes in Madagascar.  In the past, Madagascar has been criticized for the quality of its tourism infrastructure.  With respect to the roads, this was and still is justified.  In all other respects (accommodations, food, guides), however, I thought that we were extremely well treated on this trip and so would urge others, especially others with an interest in unusual wildlife, to give Madagascar a try.

Look for Part 2 next week.

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