On our recent trip to Madagascar we were very lucky to have the opportunity hiking through parts of the Andasibe National Park. We spent some four+ hours with a local guide who talked about the different plants and animals in the park, and trekking through the rainforest to catch a glimpse of the two lemur groups which live within the area.
It was a fantastic experience and truly educational.
To be honest, my knowledge of lemurs and of Madagascar was pretty much zilch. I knew that this island country is biologically diverse, full of species which had evolved independently due to the island’s long-time isolation. Of course I had seen the movie Madagascar and when I FB’d that I was taking a trip there, most of the comments were jokes based on the movie. Yes I didn’t expect to see Alex there.
This time of the year is when we get to see lemur babies. That’s the big draw, even as the high season is closing, moving toward the cyclone months. We were told that the rains that come with the cyclone can and do flood much of the properties, including many villages and hotels.
Where we stayed, it was literally the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the rainforest. Driving into the site, as the sun was sinking, the whole scene was like out of the movies. Still in the distance, the property was lit only by a few lights, a warm glow bathed over it, visible only between the trees and around certain bends…full of mystery and mystique.
In the morning, we would hear the cries of the lemurs, which continue until they nap in the afternoon. Eerie cries. The high of the females and the low of the males, intermingling for a few minutes at a time, becoming a song of each of the group. Distant… for now.
Dressed in long pants and long sleeves, still in the cool of the morning, I set out with my husband, ready to see lemurs and the botany of the natural park.
Lemurs are named after the Roman mythological lemures (spirits/ghosts) due to their eerie cries, reflective eyes, and some of the species like the woolly lemurs we saw napping on the traveller’s palm being nocturnal. The daytime species we were looking for, the ones with the babies, is the Indri Indri or Babakoto (“Ancestors of Man”), the largest species in Madagascar. We were lucky to have found both groups, taking a rest on the high branches of the local trees, the baby of one group actively jumping from branch to branch (videotaped!). It was very exciting hearing the cries of the Indri Indri closeby, as we almost ran through the trees, honing in on their calls to locate them. I was hoping that any minute a lemur would leap overhead.
The lemurs in the Andasibe National Park should be safe from being endangered as it is a protected area. However, much of the country is facing large-scale deforestation for agriculture and timber, which threatens the lemur’s environment. Aside from being hunted by people for food, lemurs’s natural predators include the fossa (which can jump onto trees and so lemurs sleep on higher branches at night, and lower branches during the day to avoid birds of prey), feral cats, dogs (which we didn’t see too many of), and crocodiles.
While the Malagasy people are seeing the importance of conservation, the poverty is quite severe in the country, which makes stopping people hunting lemurs for food more difficult. But hopefully at least the destruction of the rainforest can be halted.
Later that day, we visited Lemur Island in Vakona Park. Lemurs who were once pets were rescued and now live on two islands, on of which tourists visit via a (very very short) canoe ride. Separated by water, the lemurs were save from predators like the fossa and because of their own dislike for water, the lemurs would also remain on the islands (or that’s the plan!)
The black and white and a second group of the bambo lemurs live on the second island. One of the black and white lemurs had leaped over to the first island! Pretty smart as that’s where the action is. Visitors=food (bananas). The guide said when it’s mating season, she’ll have to be brought back to the second island.
Here we also met other species including a family which has formed from the interbreeding of the brown and the red lemurs and the sifaka, famous for leaping upright on their hind legs.
It was amazing having the lemurs jump on you, feeling their soft furry feet on your head or shoulders. They were really friendly. Normally this isn’t the kind of interaction that I would be involved in but these were rescued and already domesticated animals. I really believe the wild belongs in the wild but these lemurs were no longer wild and seemed to be comfortable with humans, evidenced by the new mother who came right up to us (and rode on my husband’s backpack) with her month-old baby. She had no problem being touched and felt no danger for her baby from us. Probably not so good for living in the wild, but okay on the reserve.
It was such an amazing experience. The whole 3 day safari in Madagascar. How does it get better than that?