Monday, January 23, 2017

MADAGASCAR: Leaping Lemurs, Guest Post by Owen Floody, Part 2

A pair of Coquerel’s sifakas, Madagascar

In June 2016, our friend Owen Floody planned and led a trip to Madagascar.  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken several trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He has been a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is part 2 of a short reflection on his Madagascar trip and a few of his excellent photographs. 

The second half of my Madagascar trip involved an extended drive down the central spine of the country, from Tana in the central highlands to Tulear, on the southwest coast.  As this was a long trip along one of Madagascar’s main roads, it gave us the chance to see a lot of the country, including many towns, villages and local markets.  Some in my group relished the opportunities this created for people-watching, other cultural experiences, and shopping.
Isalo National Park
I was primarily interested in exploring a series of national parks promising dramatic contrasts in their environments and wildlife.  Chief on my list were Ranomafana, Andringitra and Isalo National Parks.  The first two comprise one third of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana, a World Heritage Site.  In its emphasis on rainforests, this designation applies perfectly to Ranomafana but strikes me as slightly misleading in the case of Andringitra.  Ranomafana is one of Madagascar’s premier rainforests.  Likewise, it is one of the country’s prime sites for lemur-focused research and tourism.  In contrast, Andringitra’s claim to fame is based more on its mountainous landscape, unusual vegetation and opportunities for hiking.  And quite distinct from both of these, Isalo National Park features expanses of dry grassland, rare endemic plants, and especially striking sandstone formations and canyons.
Ranomafana National Park
In Ranomafana, the forest itself was the star attraction.  We did see lemurs, although they were difficult to spot, let alone view clearly, in the dense vegetation.  On the other hand, the absence of large predators makes it possible to search for wildlife at night as well as during the day.  Indeed, we were able to do this in most of the parks and reserves we visited, and these walks were very productive, since a significant number of lemurs that are nocturnal.
Mouse lemur
In Andringitra, we did two demanding hikes, one up onto a high plateau known for its lunar landscape, the other into one of the bands of rainforest extending into this park.  The first of these was especially rewarding despite the mist that obscured much of the landscape on the day of our hike.
“Dancing” Verreaux’s sifaka
Finally, we had a great time at Isalo.  One highlight was a hike up a canyon leading to the Cascade des Nymphes.  We had rewarding encounters here with lemurs, both on the hike and immediately afterwards, as we attracted quite an audience to our picnic lunch.  
Ring-tailed lemur
The other Isalo highlight was the viewing of sunset at La Fenètre (the window), a natural opening in a rock formation through which the setting sun can be viewed.  I strongly think, however, that the far better sunset views here are those looking away from the sun and at the glowing slabs of fantastically-shaped sandstone basking in the sun’s dying rays.
Sunset from La Fenetre
If you haven’t ever considered a trip to Madagascar, you should give it some thought.  The remaining natural areas and wildlife need the support of foreign tourists.  Furthermore, some of these areas are as impressive as I’ve seen anywhere and there simply cannot be any animal anywhere that is as endearing as a lemur.

Note: I devised the trip itinerary, which was ably implemented by Cortez, USA, a California-based tour-operator that specializes in Madagascar.  In the past, Madagascar has been criticized for the quality of its tourism infrastructure.  With respect to the roads, this was and still is justified.  In all other respects (accommodations, food, guides), however, I thought that we were extremely well treated on this trip and so would urge others, especially those with an interest in unusual wildlife, to give Madagascar a try.

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