The island nation of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, is home to the most extraordinary wildlife in the world. Approximately 95 per cent of its reptiles, 89 per cent of its plant life and 92 per cent of its mammals exist nowhere else on earth. These are some of the near threatened to critically endangered creatures that’ll make you hop on the next flight to Madagascar.
Instantly spottable due to its long and distinguishing black and white ringed tail, this rather appropriately named lemur is the most terrestrial of all Madagascar’s primates. Often found sunbathing or contorting itself into yoga-like poses, this most social species of lemurs hangs around in large groups and frequently gets into turf wars. Ring-tailed lemurs can be easily watched sauntering in the forest of the Berenty Reserve, 90 km from Fort Dauphin. With an excellent arboretum, varied trails and generous accommodations, Berenty and its conserved ring-tailed lemurs are an unmissable sight.
The largest of the lemurs, Indri is famous for its missing tail and revered by the Malagasy as the sacred ancestor of man. A spectacular jumper, leaping up to 10 meters between branches, this fascinating creature can be easily located by its haunting wail of a song heard a mile away. The Indris can be best observed at the Andasibe National Park—with flat and easy trails and its closeness to the capital, this reserve is a must-visit, as is its star attraction.
The Radiated tortoise, unique to Madagascar, is one of the most striking of all tortoises. With bright yellow lines creating distinctive patterns on their plate, they are easily recognizable and stunning to behold. This rare tortoise can be found at the Cap Sainte Marie Special Reserve on the most southern point of Madagascar—its last remaining wild habitat.
The only lemur with human-like blue eyes, the black lemur has a strange dimorphism in appearance, with males exhibiting a thick coat of black and females a reddish tan. With strong familial bonds, these creatures remain in a close-knit pack and are the star attraction of the Lokobe Integral Reserve on an island north of Madagascar.
Famous for its moves, the Verreaux’s sifaka glides across tree tops, and on the ground it bounds gracefully only on its hind legs, holding its arms aloft like a dancer. With thick white fur covering its body, this sifaka makes a stellar entrance wherever it appears. Found only in Madagascar, it can be observed at the Andohahela National Park, 40 km northwest from Fort Dauphin. Here among the trails of the dry spiny forest, the sifakas can be easily found roaming in small groups.
Considered a separate species than the Nile crocodiles found on the rest of the island, Madagascar’s Cave Crocodiles are the only known kind of crocodile to have made itself a subterranean home. These almost-mythical creatures have been known to get up to 20 feet long and can be found in the vast labyrinth of caves beneath the ground at the Anakarna National Park. With varied trails, numerous campsites and unparalleled viewpoints, this destination and its intriguing crocodile inhabitants are a must-see in Madagascar.
The aye-aye is a nocturnal primate native to the island of Madagascar. It has gained a reputation of some serious cray cray among the locals, accentuated by its almost sinister shiny eyes, bony fingers and suspect nocturnal habits. The aye-aye can be found on the Masaola peninsula of Madagascar, which has the distinction of housing two per cent of all earth’s animal and plant species. With a variety of accommodations, hiking and trekking prospects, Masaola National Park’s 2300 sq km reserve is Madagascar’s largest.
The Lesser Flamingo
The always conspicuous lesser flamingo, hanging around in flocks of tens of thousands, is the shorter and darker cousin of the greater flamingo. With faint pink feathers and deep crimson legs, this bird is a thing of beauty. A nomadic creature, traveling over the Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the lesser flamingo can be found in Madagascar at Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. A paradise for birders, this reserve has over 100 bird species, with the flamingos easily visible forming a large colony on the lake.
The bad guy in the Madagascar movie, the Fossa is an unusual hybrid of feline and canine features. Renowned as Madagascar’s Puma, a powerful predator and excellent climber, the Fossa pursues its favorite prey — lemurs leaping through the tree branches. The island’s largest carnivore is best observed at Kirindy Reserve, a two-hour drive from Morondava. Take a guided walking tour to explore this most outstanding and threatened wildlife habitat.
When visiting the natural preserves in Madagascar, please ensure you take nothing from these fragile ecosystems, and leave nothing behind. Do not disturb the animals or their habitat. And support local establishments.