Madagascar has always sounded so magical to me – it’s the fourth largest island in the world and famous for its unique flora and cute lemur. Whilst watching the animated film on a dreary Sunday morning, never did I expect I would have the opportunity to visit myself.
As we pulled up into the village of Andasibe for the first time, there was no time for settling in. Immediately we were surrounded by a throng of curious Malagasy children whose keen eyes had spotted the rugby ball my companion had packed, in amongst litres of insect repellent. After a tiring 2 hour game of “piggy in the middle”, we retired to our beds for our first night in the forest.
Indri lemur in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Hearing the eerie whale-like calls of the Indri-Indri is an exciting moment – even at 5am. Seeing them 2 metres away is even more thrilling. After a traditional breakfast of boiled rice pudding, cooked by our “Malagasy mum” living next door, we set off into the rainforest at the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Perinet) with our English speaking guide Justin. After an hour, there was a rustling in the distance trees and seconds later a family of Indri bounded through the trees, fluffy white and black bodies coupled with piercing blue eyes. It was a heart-stopping moment as one individual clung to the tree just metres away from us, gingerly accepting a bunch of leaves.
Trekking through this wildlife rich rainforest, the seriousness of Madagascar’s plight struck me. Less than 10% of the native rainforest remains and continues to be under serious threat. The work of pro-active organisations like Mitsinjo, a special reserve opposite Andasibe-Mantadia NP are key to ensuring these biodiversity hotspots are not lost. I had the opportunity to work on their reforestation project which aims to plant new saplings to re-link areas of fragmented forest, which in turn will permit genetic exchange between populations of animals and plants. I was involved with gathering fertile soil from the forest to aid sapling growth; extremely satisfying work, despite an unfortunate encounter with a scorpion, much to the delight of the guides.
Mitsinjo also support and host scientific projects, with a keen focus on endangered species including the Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus). Frequent habitat studies of this diminishing species are in vital in order to protect it from habitat destruction and eventual extinction.
Greater bamboo lemur
Unfortunately Madagascar is a poverty stricken country – approximately 85% of the rural population lie below the poverty line, with most families relying on a small patch of land for subsistence farming. This became increasingly apparent as we visited remote villages to find young children shelling beans on woven mats and chasing gaunt chickens around their clay huts. The distinctive rice paddy was also a main feature of the landscape surrounding these communities. We soon learnt by personal experience that cultivating rice is not an easy process… leaning down in the midday heat to plant thousands of rice plants in the mud. The bowl of rice and beef at the end was certainly appreciated all the more – most Malagasy individuals eat boiled rice 3 times a day which can equate up to 1kg!
Madagascar is a country that didn’t fail to excite and the exposure to the wildlife was unparalleled. Now I am back living in the UK, I am excited to work with Rainbow Tours, sending others out to Madagascar to enjoy and share in my experiences. Supporting Madagascar’s fragile economy through responsible and eco-tourism still gives me a strong sense of satisfaction, despite being thousands of miles away.