Speaker: Colin Smith
Reporter: Sue Gale
It is always great to hear about the travels of our members, and Colin Smith treated us to some excellent images and videos of his adventurous tour of Madagascar. He thoughtfully started by locating Madagascar for us, off the East coast of Africa, and made up of rainforest in the East, mountains in the middle and desert on the West. There are several nature reserves but they are mostly small and isolated, separated by villages and rice fields, and the country has suffered a good deal from deforestation. None-the-less 80% of the flora and fauna are endemic, making this a prime location for naturalists of all persuasions. Of course, the lemurs are the biggest attraction, and there are very many species, ever increasing in numbers as DNA investigations identify differences.
The rice fields have their own attractions, especially the water-birds like egrets and herons. The Black Heron famously uses its wings as an umbrella when fishing, and you can see the splendid Hammerkop. But the rainforest is the main attraction, and Colin ventured down a long dirt road through secondary forest to reach his first one. He was greeted by the wonderful sound of the Indri – the largest lemur – calling, and we also got to hear this haunting ‘song’. Then there were Diademed Sifaka – the pretty lemurs! Throughout the visit Colin was also introduced to many different species of Geckos and Chameleons, often very colourful, and to odd insects like the Giraffe- necked Weevil. Parson’s Chameleon is the largest in the world! At Palmarium the group were treated to a duet between the guide, Romeo, and an Indri. Quite astonishing. This day ended with a trip to Aye-Aye island, a small private reserve in the middle of the Manarana river. If you look it up you will find that views of Aye-Ayes are not guaranteed, but this was not a problem for Colin’s party. They were able to watch one of these long-fingered, nocturnal animals eating a coconut, using the long finger to scoop out the flesh. They are definitely cute, with their big eyes and large ears, and are about the size of a large cat. It took two days of long and uncomfortable driving to reach the next nature park – Ranomafama.
This is one of the largest, being about 12 by 12 miles, and includes a monument to the tribes that fought for independence from France, gained in June 1960, but contained only a single Great Bamboo Lemur, the target species. At Anja Community Reserve, however, there were 40 Ring-tailed Lemurs, in spite of the fact that it is only the size of Lenwade. Conservation efforts have increased the numbers of this species to around 400 now, a notable success. Colin also observed more Chameleons here, and commented that they were obviously the Sloths of Madagascar, for obvious reasons.
Travelling West from here to Isalo Nature Park, they entered desert terrain, but also a nicer hotel than most. Travellers Palms, seen all over SE Asia, originate here. Some birds of note were the Madagascar Hoopoe and the Madagascar Scops Owl. As already noted, most species are endemic, but they are recognisable as a variety of our more familiar species. Sapphire mining is the main money-maker here, using the age-old method of panning. But they also produce a local rum. Colin was disappointed to spend only 2 hours in the Spiny Forest, an inland reserve with great birds including the rare and beautiful Long-tailed Roller. But on this side of the island 6 of the 9 world-wide species of Baobab can be found Traditionally these trees were pollarded to provide feed for cattle,
but they are now protected. Perhaps the trees were upstaged by views of the Sub-desert Mesite, a rare thrush-like bird of the desert! Colin’s trip ended with a quick trip to a Ramsar site, Tsarasaotra park, for excellent views of water-birds, including Kingfishers. Many thanks to Colin for sharing his adventures with us.
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly indoor / online meetings.