The Painted Mantella. Frog Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
The Fantastic Leaf-tailed Gecko. Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
The incredible leaf-tailed gecko, the camouflage on these creatures rival the best in the animal kingdom. Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
A male Giraffe-necked Weevil found at Ranomafana and Perinet Reserves. Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
Scattered around forests in the south and the west one can often find the bizarre Flatid Leaf-bug nymphs gathered together on branches, appearing much like moving lichen. Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
Ring-tailed Lemur at Berenty Reserve. Photo credit: Giovanna Fasanelli
Destination Focus: The wild treasures of Madagascar
Posted by Giovanna Fasanelli
in Africa and Expeditions
It is so hard to describe to people who have never set foot on ‘The Eighth Continent’ what they are in for. But if you are an animal junkie, if you have watched Attenborough’s documentary series entitled Madagascar, you may just have an inkling of what’s in store. As one of the most threatened biodiversity hot-spots on the planet, this is a destination to prioritise… YESTERDAY! It is changing at a disconcerting rate and forest reserves and national parks take each day as they come under an ever-changing government or lack thereof. People are breeding fast and people are starving. The animals and plants living in some areas are protected by local fady or taboos, but those in other areas are not. There’s no doubt you will come away from visiting this country with bitter-sweet feelings for you will have touched the immense diversity and the extraordinary uniqueness of this evolutionary laboratory, and felt too, the desperation of its story.
In the areas that have been set aside, treasures, of the creature variety, are waiting behind every leaf… you just have to know where to look! I want to share just a few of my absolute scream-out-loud favourite creatures of Madagascar which is a tough ask as there are literally dozens! My first one is none other than the Ring-tailed Lemur. Ok, so no originality awards for me, but I have to nominate them as they truly are ineffably lovable. I haven’t known a traveller yet who hasn’t fallen head over heels! One afternoon at Berenty Reserve I was on my belly photographing a family group as they were nonchalantly walking past me when I felt a light touch on my back. A Ring-tailed had come up and just placed his little hand on me as if to say a very casual “Hey… what cha doin?”. I instantly melted into the ground… whilst he waddled off. It’s those moments that one never forgets.
I will admit that I am clinically obsessed with small critters and if they are colourful to boot, I am dusted! The male Giraffe-necked Weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa) found at Ranomafana and Perinet, is just about the quirkiest insect around with a long, hinged neck for fighting off competing males. The female, whose neck is not quite as long, mates with the winner. To find out what happens next, click this link to watch the BBC video clip. Add to this his lipstick-red wing-covers and you have a knock-out combo of coolness.
For variety’s sake, I will throw in a remarkable plant which is not a baobab but an octopus tree (Family Didieracae) – a species that typifies the spiny desert habitat of the south and southwest. How the sportive and mouse lemurs throw themselves, without injury, from one spiky branch to another in total darkness is beyond me. One evening we managed to catch the most electric sunset and the octopus tree made for a stunning silhouette.
Scattered around forests in the south and the west one can often find the bizarre Flatid Leaf-bug nymphs (Phromnia rosea) gathered together on branches, appearing much like moving lichen. Upon close inspection their backsides seem to be sprouting wispy, white feathers! This is, in fact, an unpalatable, waxy substance they excrete which turns predators away when they attempt to grab a mouthful! The adults sport bright pink or green wings.
The Painted Mantella Frog (Mantella madagascariensis) is another stunner resembling the poison arrow frogs of South America. Their skin secretes toxins and the bright colours warn predators to stay away. Talk about convergent evolution! The local guides know just where to find these beauties after which a brief photo shoot ensues! There are some 170 species of frogs on the island with new additions being found all the time.
It is no secret that a Madagascar expedition reveals some of the world’s most elaborate reptiles: a herpetologist’s veritable wonderland. The night walks/treasure hunts along the road at Ranomafana are the most fun you’ll have! The local guides really show off their spotting skills as they pull out all kinds of creatures for the trip list. Apart from dozens of cool chameleons that were pointed out on our last trip, we found a species of the incredible leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus sikorae). The camouflage on these creatures rival the best in the animal kingdom. Most impressive to me is the rim of frilled skin which prevents any slight shadow from exposing its position when flattened against the tree trunk.
This leads me nicely to my second-to-last gold nugget. When our guide found this creature I actually did let out a scream as it was a dream of mine to see one in the wild. May I introduce to you Uroplatus phantasticus – the Fantastic Leaf-tailed Gecko. Appearing like nothing other than a dried up dead leaf fallen over a low-slung branch, this creature lit up under camera flash exposing satanic red eyes. I wonder how many people had walked right past this rarely-seen, stealthy beast and been none the wiser.
For the finale I offer the apex predator of Madagascar: the Fosa (pronounced foosa or foosh). In late October to early November these powerful carnivores can be seen mating in the trees of the hot western forests. I would need 2000 more words to tell you about this captivating creature and how exhilarating it was to witness the spectacle. This odd weasel/panther-like beast measures two metres in length of which half is tail used for balancing in the trees as it runs down lemurs.
Darn… I’ve run out of time and I was just going to tell you about the world’s smallest primate! You’ll have to see that one for yourself!
Join us and discover the incredible magic this island holds on one of our upcoming Madagascar tours.