Saturday, 12 November 2011

Isalo & Ranomafana

The second instalment from our trip to Madagascar and on leaving Zombitse we continued on our journey heading for Isalo on a rather uneventful drive giving plenty of time to catch up on sleep! Finally we arrived at our hotel which was very, very nice but there would be time to enjoy it later, for now it was time to have lunch get changed and head off into Isalo National Park. Isalo is a strange place, it is a stunning landscape of eroded sandstone outcrops and canyons, although it may not have the density of wildlife of the other National Parks, it does still have some unique species such as the bizarre elephant's foot plant (Pachypodium rosulatum) and is actually one of the traditional burial sights for the Malagasy people. We did see several pairs of Madagascan kestrels flying in and out of the holes on the rock face and we even found a small reddish praying mantis! Although we didn't see any lemurs, our local guide told us that they use the holes in the rock to hide at night from the fossa. 
We didn't have long in Isalo due to changes in flights earlier in the tour but it was definitely worth visiting and on the way back to the hotel we stopped for a fiery sunset before having a wonderful meal and an early night. We had a very early start to get on the road to Ranomafana before the end of the day taking in a stop or two on the way. The first part of the journey saw us climbing up onto a barren plateaux, but then we encountered something we were not expecting, a huge several million strong locust swarm and it would have been rude not to stop and experience it from outside the comfort of the bus. So here is a link to the video and you can see a couple of images on my Flickr page. 

Locust swarm

Right, well after experiencing the swarm which I have to say was very noisy, we jumped back into the bus and headed for our next stop, which for me in one of the most important as it really highlights community based conservation. Anja is a community run ring tailed lemur reserve and one of the few places you can see the lemurs on rocks. Simply put, the community realised that by conserving a species that people would pay to see they could make a good living, so instead of hunting/killing the lemurs when they came down to raid the crops they just scared them off this is community based conservation in action and a real success story. On arrival we picked up four local guides and headed off to find us some lemurs and we were not to be disappointed coming across a family including a couple of adorable babies which were happily playing in the trees but being carefully watched by the mums! I could have stayed all day, but time was moving on so it was back to the bus, but not before I have shared this cute baby with you! 
Back on the bus it was off to watch paper making by hand, a picnic and then Ranomafana eventually arriving around dinner time, so there wasn't really much time to do much other than eat and sleep! So Ranomafana, the rainforest at last  it was time to go find some lemurs and we were after four species in particular, the golden bamboo lemur (the discovery of which led to the park being established for it's protection), the Milne Edward's sifaka, red-bellied lemur and the critically endangered greater bamboo lemur. After crossing the river to enter the park we saw a belted chameleon hiding very well in a tree and our first lemurs were the golden bamboo lemurs eating high up in the trees but they did venture down and in a fleeting glimpse of sunlight it was very easy to see where they get their name from! Next up were a family of red-bellied lemurs snuggled up but we did see the beautiful white tear drops of the male's eyes and it was then on to the Milne Edward's sifakas, the second largest living lemur and with beautiful big red eyes. To get to the lemurs was interesting with plenty of walking up and down hills and slippery slopes but it was well worth it as we had the chance to observe a family of these beautiful lemurs, including a baby, but it was clear from watching them that they have a bit of a fly problem and spent a lot of time scratching and grooming! As we were watching these lemurs we got the call that I was hoping for, they had found the greater bamboo lemur, that was enough for me and off we went through the rainforest. The greater bamboo lemur is critically endangered with only around 130 individuals left in the wild and only two in Ranomafana. I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to see this lemur in the wild it was a very humbling experience so here he is:
I could write for ever about the experiences and sightings but I will try to keep it short (ish), if you would like to know more about any of the places or wildlife please don't hesitate to drop me an email and I'd be more than happy to share them with you. For now it was time to move on and start heading out of the park to refuel our bodies not before we came across a couple of satanic leaf tailed geckos. After lunch we were off again to a different part of the park to see what else we could find, first up were the crazy giraffe necked weevils a truly odd creature but also weirdly beautiful, maybe not as strange as the next spotted which I actually found after everyone else had walked past it, including the guides! Here he is one of my favourite creatures the mossy leaf tailed gecko, do check out my Facebook page for more images of him/her including the camouflaged one! 
We spent a couple of days at Ranomafana and saw chameleons, frogs, geckos, birds and more lemurs which you can see images of on any of my other pages so I will leave you to take the adventure in your own time with a cup of time! Before I end this instalment though I will say that having the opportunity to see such amazing wildlife let alone photograph it was incredibly rewarding and humbling and has really stoked the fires to help conserve this wonderful biodiversity rich island. If you can help in anyway or can suggest ways in which my images could help please drop me a message. So for now, I'm off to pack for Norfolk ready to go find myself some seals, have a great weekend everyone.