Mothers and Children of the red Island: Ghostlike endemic Prosimians and unique tree formations of Lemuria.
Madagascar: Part one (Antananarivo/Morondava/Antsirabe)
The familiar annoying sound of my alarm buzzed through my head, but this very early start of our day was different. Months of planning, negotiating, changing routes and amending our itinerary were over, and we would embark on what was to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Madagascar’s endemics, unique landscapes, and incredible flora were the main reasons for this choice of destination. However, we were fully aware of the obstacles that we would face. A comprehensive itinerary designed for a three-week adventure compressed this into 17 action-packed days. It would be a challenge, but we were mentally and physically prepared.
We arrived in Antananarivo’s capital at 3 am, a quick negotiation through customs, and through the gates to meet our guide and drivers (Tahina Angelman and Dany Machel) for this tour through Madagascar’s diverse landscapes. Our brief was to the travel agent: enormous Baobab trees, Lemurs, birds and Chameleons, throw in some tropical paradise beaches, and we will be happy.
Morondava would be our first target, wanting to walk along the “Avenue of the Baobabs at Sunset”. En route, we would first visit the Anja Lemur reserve just outside of the capital city Tana as its known. Black Lemurs and some small locally planted Baobabs were my overwhelming highlights. Ordinarily found in the northwest of Madagascar, Adansonia Suarez and Adansonia Madagascariensis. We were delighted to see these small trees as we would not get the opportunity on our adventure to see these in the wild.
Heading towards our first stop at Antsirabe en our route to Morondava, unfortunately, the roads in Madagascar are deplorable, making for slow progress, so one needs to break up your travel routes to allow for these delays.
Referred to as the eighth continent, Madagascar’s windswept land rich in iron oxides has earned its name as the Bleeding or Red Island. Local slash-and-burn farming practices have destroyed almost 90% of the original indigenous forest. As a result, in the rainy season, the soil erodes, and the rivers wash the red silt into the sea. This soil erosion is so severe that the phenomenon can be observed from space.
Madagascar’s endemic fauna and flora have made this island a world-famous and popular destination. This cyclone-battered land has shaped a territory of extraordinary beauty and diversity. The standard theory to explain what made this island such a unique haven for its endemism was that Gondwana was the key. Gondwana, the southern supercontinent, which, so scientists believe, once embraced in single land mass what we now know as South America, Africa, India, Antarctica and Australasia. It was here in the centre of Gondwana, in what is now Madagascar, that these endemic species evolved.
Then, according to the theory of continental drift, the supercontinent broke up at least 50 million years ago, and new continents and subcontinents were formed. Having been isolated for so many millions of years, Madagascar resulted in rich and diverse wildlife and plants found nowhere else.
Video of the Continental drift Theory from Pangea to Today:
Madagascar is classified as a microcontinent, a biodiversity hotspot, with over 90% of its wildlife only found here Monkey-like lemurs sing songs of expressional beauty. A garden of Eden and a Noah’s ark for endemic species.
It’s a place where creatures you may never have heard of, like Fusa and Tenrecs, vangas, and Aye Aye, thrive in a true lost world along with divers and unique flora like the octopus tree and its six endemic Baobabs. This is a result of its 88 million years of isolation from other land masses.
The Indri-Indri(Babakoto), the singing Lemur, Parsons Chameleons growing to more than 600mm in length, and the Helmet Vanga, a top 100 bird of the world, are just some of the unique treasures that is Madagascar.
Madagascar’s unique endemic fauna and flora make this a popular destination, but the Lemurs have created the island’s great enigma. These Prosimians'(pre-monkey) evolutionary path differs from the mammals.
Lemur, from the Latin word “Spirits of the Dead”, is the name used to describe the vocalization of these animals. Mystery and legends surround the exclusive animals of the island. It is here in these forests that one abandoned the jungle and became the master of the world. The other remained and became a rarity as its evolutionary path differed from mammals. Lemurs are the most emblematic inhabitants of Lemuria.
Video from our trip
This is a strange wonder-like island where evolution seemed to come to a standstill. Madagascar continues to change. There are more endemic species here than in any other place on earth. This world of Lemuria is as strange as ever, as astonishing as ever and as fragile as ever, and this is why they are as vulnerable as ever. Fragile, delicate and remote, Man is the deciding factor on which its future depends, along with the future of all its species.
We embarked on this wild adventure to witness this spectacle, dodging some of the worst potholed roads. Arriving at the Avenue, the sun’s rays washed over these colossal columns as they dominated the landscape.
This is Adansonia grandidieri, a perfect name for the grandest and most famous of all the baobabs. (It took its name from two great French naturalists, Michel Adanson and Alfred Grandidier.)
The species is unfortunately rare and endangered, so make a point of visiting this unique location before it’s gone forever. Currently, the species is listed as being in danger of extinction (EN) on the red list of the UICN, so let’s protect it!
We were waiting for the magical hour to capture the Avenue at Sunset, these gigantic monoliths towering out of the hard sun-baked sand of Morondava. How disappointed we were when an uninvited bank of clouds masked the sunlight, and the moment was lost.
Revisiting at sunrise the following morning on our way to the Kirindy Forest Reserve, we were mesmerized by the beauty and power of these ancient beings that tower over the surrounding forest. Blessed by a passing rainbow that arched over the Baobab Avenue, another reflection of its imposing presence.
Enthralled by the occasion, we trudged further along the road that leads to the town of Belo. Here we uncover more remarkable and Majestic beasts. This time the Adansonia Za, similar to its cousin the Grandidieri, but with a more bushy head and not a crown. We paid homage and presented gifts and blessings to the largest of them, the forest’s king. Stunned by its grandeur and colossal construction as it towered overhead. Departing with the knowledge that we had witnessed something compelling and remarkable… silent for a while, absorbing the moment shared amongst the local people living a simple and primitive life “alongside the river” at Morondava.
That evening we were very disappointed to learn that our next destination, Andavadoaka, was unreachable. We required a significant detour to the town of Manja, an 18-hour dive. Due to the heavy rains a month before our arrival, a bridge had washed away, requiring this detour and a change in our route.
Travelling unsupported into this remote, unknown wilderness was far too risky for my family, especially considering that you may not travel at night in Madagascar. Although we were aware of the bridge washing away, no one from our travel agents discussed the ramifications of this event until the night before our departure. So we cancelled this unrealistic plan and headed back to the capital Antananarivo to get away from the hot, dry and remote area and into the cool rainforests of Andasibe.
Saddened by the knowledge that we would never get to see the spiny forests and their unique treasures of endemic flora and fauna. We would not get to stand below the strange desert-like Baobabs (Adansonia rubrostipa) nor listen to the calling of endemic birds only found in this area. We would also miss out on quaint towns like Tulier and Ifaty. Isalo National park and its enormous rock formations we be left behind, along with the most famous of all, the Rainforests of Ranomafana. Excluding these locations would be a bitter pill to swallow; however, our safety had to come first.
During our route back to Tana, we received news from a local guide in Ifaty that crossing the last remaining river before the town would have been impossible. So, we would have failed if we had not been cautious and accepted this irresponsible plan to travel to this remote region in the wet season. We were vindicated in our decision not to risk life and limb along these sandy roads with most rivers in flood. This did go a long way in relieving the pain of having to abandon these iconic locations.
Follow our adventures in part two, the Rain Forests of Madagascar.