Any visit to Madagascar is incomplete if you don’t go and visit the lemurs only in existence here. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is located about 150km east of Antananaviro and covers an area of 155 km² of protected rainforests. This national park provides habitat for many endemic and endangered species, the most famous being the 11 lemur species including the largest lemur species, the Indri. Lemurs are primates but are not to be confused with ancestral primates in that they did not give rise to monkeys and apes, but instead evolved independently due to Madagascar’s isolation. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is made of two parts: Mantadia National Park and Analamazoatra Reserve. We drove for about 3 hours along windy roads from Antananviro to the Andasibe area. We wanted to stay at Vakona Forest Lodge with the Lemur Island on its property but unfortunately it was already fully booked almost a year ago. The agency that arranged the car and guide recommended Andasibe Hotel and it was not too bad. After “roughing it” in Omo Valley in Ethiopia just a week prior, we could pretty much handle anything.
Mantadia Park is more isolated as it is about 15km away from Andasibe and the roads going there are supposedly horrid and could take over an hour for the mere 15km. We were told that there are 5 main hiking trails and aren’t as wide as those in Analamazaotra Park. We didn’t end up going to Mantadia Park and instead spent our morning in Analamazaotra Park where the trails are wide, mostly flat, and quite easy to hike though a bit busy with tourists at times. Here you can see the Indri which is the largest living lemur reaching up to 1 meter tall and is considered a sacred animal to the Malagasy people. There are quite a few habituated groups in Analamazaotra Park and you are bound to hear their eerie call. The call sounds very much like a mix between a whalesong and a siren. The indri has a teddy-bear face and black and white markings. At a meter tall, it reminds me of a stretched panda. Like many other species of lemur, indri live in a female dominant society led by a dominant female. The indri is considered sacred by the Malagsy people and there are many legends regarding this revered animal. One such legend has it that two brothers lived together in the forest and one of them left to cultivate the land and became the first human. The brother who remained in the forest became the first indri and constantly cries in mourning for his brother who left. The indri is believed to practice sun worship in a human-like form where when the sun rises, the indri will sit and face the sun cross-legged with its palms facing out and resting on its knees, back straight and eyes half closed as if meditating. Other than the Indri, the Diademed Sifaka is the largest living lemur and can also be found here at Analamazaotra Park. It is widely considered one of the most beautiful lemur species and is often referred to as the Dancing Lemur by the locals because of the way it jumps/walks on its hind legs. It has a dark colored face framed by white hair and it has a black patch of hair on the top of its head like an ornamental hairpiece or crown. Its long hair is typically black on the back and gold on the arms and legs.
Lemur Island located within the Vakona Forest Lodge is a great place to guarantee sightings of the bamboo lemur, the black and white ruffed lemur, the brown lemur, the ring-tailed lemur and the diademed sifaka. You take a 30-second canoe ride to the island as the boatman calls out to the lemurs letting them know tourists with bananas are on their way. These lemurs are habituated and they will jump on you as you feed them bananas. The story goes that this conservation project was started because these lemurs were rescued from the captive wildlife trade and since they were dependent and accustomed to being around humans, they could not be fully released into the wild. The lemurs on the island are free to roam the island and forage for food. But with tourists constantly feeding them bananas, many of them are a bit overweight. I enjoyed this visit tremendously and would recommend it as a must-see to anyone coming to the area.
Our driver/guide recommended that we do a night walk in search of nocturnal lemurs and other creatures. It is amazing how our ranger can spot teeny tiny animals like the small frog in complete darkness other than his small headlamp! Laser eyes!
Other than lemurs, the island of Madagascar is home to around 50 percent of the world’s chameleons. On our last day in Andasibe, we were taken to a park and shown all kinds of chameleons and geckos. I am not much of a reptile fan but these ones are really quite beautiful! At the reptile park, I also spotted my favorite species of lemurs so far – the Coquerel’s Sifika. These lemurs look so fluffy and cuddly, almost like stuffed animals.
From Andasibe, we continue to Morondava to see the famous Baobab trees and more lemurs. Stayed tuned!
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