Madagascar: National Parks, Lemurs and so Much More

Elizabeth Persson

24 Oct 2019

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When hearing of my impending trip to Madagascar, many of my Australian friends asked with genuine interest "what is there to see in Madagascar?". My textbook reply was "Madagascar is the perfect destination for those who seek to understand/appreciate the natural world – a country with unique flora and fauna". However even I didn’t realise at that early stage, how much more this fascinating country had to offer.

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After a brief stint in Antananarivo our group of seven like-minded travellers representing four different countries set off to explore the country with our 24/7 naturalist guide, Marc. I had been told that the roads were bad and the journeys long but we soon settled into our routine; a couple of days exploring the nature in the national parks followed by a day of travelling. Those days on the road became days to reflect, enjoy conversation with our travelling companions, listen to the many insights about the natural and social life of Madagascar from Marc and watch Malagasy life in the raw.

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There are not many national roads in Madagascar and most Malagasy people live in the rural areas abutting these roads growing rice and other crops. From the various adaptive styles of housing throughout the country, to the road-side stalls and markets, to the workers in the fields, or the zebu herders taking their animals to market, there was always something interesting going on.

The many villagers lining the roads were as interested in us as we in them, making eye contact, smiling and waving. Interesting fact: 75% of Madagascans live below the poverty line.

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We also loved the ever-changing and fascinating landscape from the rainforest reserves of Andasibe, Mantadia and Ranomafana. We travelled through the highlands to the desert of the south where the dry spiny forests had uniquely endemic flora.

Interesting fact: 89% of Madagascar’s flora, more than 11,000 species of plants, are found nowhere else on earth

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One of our many memorable moments included stopping for wine tasting at a roadside stall. The wine was memorable (!) but what was more interesting was the prepared food dishes lining the counters. When we enquired as to what each was, the plate of Zebu penis was the one that most tickled our fancy! The Madagascans waste nothing and are incredibly resourceful – recycling and reusing products is fundamental. In Ansirabe we watched as a used bicycle brake cable, snips of aluminium cans, medical tubing and wire were used to make extraordinarily detailed model bicycles. At the craft market in Antananarivo I bought a beautiful fruit bowl that had been cleverly made from recycled metal.

Ilikaka was one very interesting town that we passed through in the south-west of the country, near Isalo National Park. This boomtown sprang up as a result of the discovery and demand for Madagascar’s highly prized sapphires. As you drive through you can see miners working deep holes to extract heavy bags of soil which are then taken to the river to be washed and sifted, all hoping to strike it rich.

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Much has been written by others about the amazing wildlife experiences in Madagascar. I can certainly support what has already been said. Interesting fact: Madagascar is home to hundreds of species of animals found nowhere else on earth.

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How lucky were we! This critically endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur was spotted in Ranomafana NP. We managed to find 19 different varieties of lemur; from the largest, the Indri; to the smallest, the mouse lemur; to the most sociable, the ring-tailed lemur; to the most elusive, the golden bamboo lemur; the most distinctive, the Aye-aye; and the most written about, the Verreaux (dancing) Sifaka, plus a lot more.

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Every encounter sent waves of excitement through all of us. Madagascar is a photographer’s dream destination. You have to work hard for the shots but there is so much satisfaction when you get “the one”.

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I particularly enjoyed the several night walks. It was a peaceful if somewhat surreal experience walking through bushland areas with just the light of our torches to guide us. To see the amazing array of strange little nocturnal creatures was superb. The many varieties of chameleons, tiny frogs, mouse and dwarf lemurs, spiders, stick-insects and giant moths were just a few of the creatures we spotted.

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This trip was amazing on every level. Our guide Marc was more than just a wonderful organiser and an extensive source of knowledge. He was passionate about his country and wanted us to see and understand – warts and all – what his country was about. He was acutely aware of the needs of each individual in the group.

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The accommodation far exceeded my expectations. Every lodge was excellent. My only complaint about the food was that it was too good and too much and so difficult to say no to. One of the highlights of this trip was sharing all of these amazing experiences with such a great group of companions. This was small group travel at its very best.

WELL DONE NWS ON ANOTHER FANTASTIC WILDLIFE ADVENTURE!

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