Lemur's Island could be controversial. The lemurs are reputed to be rescued pets (and their offspring). The lemurs (we saw white ruffed lemurs, common brown lemurs and grey bambooo lemurs) climb all over visitors in search of fruit. There are ample opportunities for close up photography. Problem is of course that the lemurs keep coming towards the camera. maybe a video instead.
It is fun to be able to get up close to the animals, who don't seem to be damaged by the experience. The cost is modest (and cheaper for Vakona Lodge guests). The boat trip is all of 10 metres tops!
Afterwards we walked to Vakona Reserve to see the fossa.
There is a Crocodile park a short walk from Lemur's Island, where one can see deep spooky looking lake, which is home to several of the beasts.
The chief attraction (birdlife in the trees notwithstanding) is a chance to get up close and personal with the mongoose like Fossa. Inside a stout enclosure, there are a couple of these endangered carnivores, and they seem to know that when a group of people turn up, then food cannot be far away. So they are both restless, pacing around on the trees in their cyclone wired enclosures.
Meat is indeed supplied, and the fossa grabs it with glee and retreats to a safe distance from the wire to chow down.
On the walk out of the Croc Park, we do not retrace our steps, instead climbing a steep hill
Night walks in the National Parks are now banned, so one walks along the roads beside the the park, with your guides (and everyone else) shining torches into the undergrowth in the hope of an animal sighting.
Whilst the lemurs and sifakas rule the daylight, it is smaller and more secretive fauna which are the stars of the nighttime. We spent about 90 minutes strolling along the roadside alongside Mantadia National Park, and were rewarded with sightings of mouse lemurs (red eyes shining in the torchlight), and tiny chameleons and frogs. The highlight of the evening was the large green chameleon curled up in a tree only yards from the road.
Madagascar's national parks come to life after dark. Many of the 'crowdpleaser' lemurs who tend to hog the touristic limelight bed down after dark, so once the sun sets, there is a change of guard and they surrender centre stage to a caste of animals that are less obvious but equally interesting.
Andasibe is perfect for night walks: even walking along the tar road between the main RN2 road and Andasibe village you can see an amazing amount if only you know where to look. We were taken aback to find leaf-tailed geckoes lurking literally on the road verge, and almost stepped on a glorious tree boa who was crossing the road.
We found our excellent guide at Association Mitsinjo, an NGO working in this area who focus on conservation of pristine forest and reforestation of degraded areas. They are easy to find as their entrance is opposite that of the national park (where you are not allowed at walk at night) and their enthusiasm is contagious - perhaps because they work for an NGO rather than ANGAP, there is an element of ecological evangelism that adds an interesting and distinct 'flavour' to their perspective. Our guide spoke good English, and was delighted when we told him that we were particularly interested in reptiles and amphibians: what followed was a roll call of chameleons, lizards, snakes and frogs of all shapes, sizes and colours!
Chameleons are diurnal, so spotting them after dark is rewarding provided you (or, more realistically, your guide) know where they snooze. I am of the opinion that all chameleons are enchanting, but I have to confess a particular weakness for sleeping juveniles, clinging to precarious-looking leaves and twigs for stability. With their pincer-like feet clamped to twigs, their eyes firmly shut and their tails curled tightly inwards, they remind me of sleeping children whose slumber you are priveleged to witness. Until I visited Madagascar, I had no idea that lizards could make you feel that way.
To make the most of the experience, make sure that you come equipped with your own torch and wear something warm, as the temperature drops rapidly after dark.
For those who didn't get to the zoo in Tana, the crocodile farm near Vakona Forest Lodge offers a rare opportunity to see this most peculiar of carnivores.
As we live in Africa, the main attractions at the crocodile farm - the crocs themselves - weren't a particular novelty. By contrast, the fossa were in a league of their own: dispassionate, sturdy and dangerous looking even through reassuringly robust chainlink fencing. It is always an exilirating and unsettling experience when you encounter a completely unfamilar animal that doesn't adhere to the niceties of scientific classification, and sadly as the opportunities for viewing these amazing animals in the wild are slim, we were just grateful to be able to see them at all.
There are also some snakes and lizards.
In all honesty, the crocodile park probably doesn't justify a visit to the region on its own merits, but if you're in the area, it's well worth an hour or so (ideally combine it with a visit to the lemur island).
Vakona Forest Lodge offers a lemur experience which may be dismissed as being 'canned' by purists, but which will set any animal lover's pulse arace!
A small (I suspect artificial) island in a lake on the property has been put aside as a habitat for lemurs that have been rescued from captivity. The only access is a hop, skip and jump by boat, and almost as soon as you arrive, the lemurs take over.
The island is home to brown lemur, bamboo lemur, black and white ruffed lemur and a solitary diademed sifaka. The latter is an opportunist who ended up as an orphan on the island after a major storm that killed his mother - his good luck was that the storm which uprooted a tree which fell as a bridge from the 'mainland' onto the island, and he's been there ever since.
It has to be said that this is not bona fide lemur spotting. Having said that, this does give you the opportunity to get really close to species that you might only see at a distance in the wild, and to appreciate their astounding adaptations (see my photo of the sifaka's remarkable flattened toes). And nothing could prepare you for the thrill of lemurs bounding onto your shoulders in search of bananas!
in front of the National Forest of Andasibe-Mantadia : Mitsinjo Forest
it was open at April 2005, and it's has a lot to offer you, here are the pros and cons.
1. It's more wilder and narrower, than the national park.
2. considerably less tourists !
3. same proffesional local english/french speaking guides as the national park.
4. Nature at it's best the same animals and plantation can be found at both parks(snakes/3 kinds of lemurs/geckos/chameloens)
5. the money goes straight to the vilage and not to ANGAP.
6. Madarbres tree climbing - I'm a Lemur!
1. no river or frogs.
I didn't regret my choice of Mitsinjo forest . I took the package 80000Ar for a day tour with Play my malagasy instructor.a meal and the climbs .you need at least 2 persons who wants to do the tree climb .
The Madarbres are such a nice persons, they speak french and very good english, they come and stay in MG for 1/2 a year year and they sleep in the vilage. They are great instructors and let you have fun and with no pressure and they got tons of sense of humor!
My 1st tree, 20m high at first. starting from a large ladde, switching to one leg ladder and onto just branches and optional foot strings for easier climbing. when you reach the top of the tree you see an amayzing view of the tree tops(if you get lucky you might see some birds or curious lemurs) then I went on the monkey ladder to the second tree and we had a vegy meal all from the malagasy market(maybe some french additions from France).
The second tree was located in a different location and was harder.
Then after Play alerted us about the brown lemurs he saw and we run-off to see them we climb on a rope using just hand and leg strength and moving the hand and foot hold as we climb. we then reached the humox and they treated us as kings . gave us food or whatever we asked for using the same rope.
Andasibe: the people are very funny and friendly they got a radio station...I don't have enough words in the tip...
(I'll update soon)
Ever noticed that I insisted on you hiring ANGAP guides while visiting national parks? Not only because local ANGAP guides are the ones who know about "their" territory. Also, ANGAP (association nationale pour la gestion ds aires partagees) aims at protecting nature.
For decades, nature parks, and other areas btw, have been under threaten. Peasants have been doing harm to Mother nature. For instance, local slash and burn technique, Tavy, was used not only in hills and more and more eroded soils, locals started to use it in parks and nature reserves as well. The cause: locals haven't had any education, neither awareness on preservation. They had to make do with they've known so, they haven't benefited from any specific program (like most of Malagasy peasants for decades, btw).
Then ANGAP was founded in 1990, a NGO that coordinates and manages the program for preserving Malagasy biodiversity. Soon this initial mission had to be extended in local development actions. It realized that preservation couldn't go along with poverished locals whose actions would go against ANGAP projects. Now, 50% entry fee amounts are allowed in micro-projects of neighbouring villages. Along with locals, other associations and financial aids, it helps in schools raising, setting of agriculture areas, rivers. ANGAP plays a role in orientating peasants too, according demands, markets. For instance, it would implement the cultivation program of orange, litchis with 70 households of one of Andasibe villages. Lots of similar projects in neigbouring areas of parks now.
Please, hire ANGAP guides. It encourages them to keep up their good work. It is reported that only 15% of Malagasy territory are covered by forests. Sad. "Blue island" then is now "Red island". The green, so deep that it tended to the blue shade became the red shade of the nude soil of the island. The guides contribute in showing the endemic species and educating us on the fragile balance of Madagascar's nature.
The hotels at Andasibe are located outside of town. The village itself is small, but worth a wander around, if only to see the wonderful old railway station. I have a passion for trains, and I was much taken by the wonderful railway stations that we passed on our travels. Sadly there seem to be very few rail services running, which is such a pity - given the atrocious state of many of the roads, I would have happily taken the train! Maybe an opportunity for an entrepreneur?