Where to see Madagascar's Weird and Wonderful Wildlife

Rainbow Tours’ author and naturalist, Derek Schuurman, has teamed up with some accomplished wildlife photographer friends to present an overview of Madagascar’s strangest and most sought-after life forms, regularly found on the lists of visiting nature enthusiasts. Here are their top ten and where you can see them on our Madagascar holidays.

Photograph by Daniel Austin Photograph by Daniel Austin

The ‘gremlin’ of Madagascar’s forests and largest of all nocturnal primates, the Aye-aye essentially fills the niche occupied on continents by woodpeckers. It is arguably the only primate known to use echolocation in search of food. Although the size of an overgrown house cat, it is difficult to spot in the wild. The best place in which to seek it is Le Palmarium in the eastern lowlands, where some have been released onto a wooded island. 

Spear-nosed or Twig-mimic snake by Hilary Bradt Spear-nosed or Twig-mimic snake by Hilary Bradt
The rarely seen Spear-nosed or Twig-mimic snakes of the genus Langaha are among the island’s most remarkable reptiles. Males tend to have a spear-shaped nasal appendage, while females sport the extraordinary, fan-shaped nasal extensions. Langaha alluaudi and Langaha pseudoalluaudi are very seldom encountered so Hilary Bradt was extremely fortunate to photograph this one during a walk in the dry deciduous forest at Anjajavy. Our Madagascar Made Easy tour visits the protected lemur-rich rainforests of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (Perinet) and the deciduous dry forest of Anjajavy.
 
Leaf-tailed gecko by Daniel Austin Leaf-tailed gecko by Daniel Austin

A favourite with visiting wildlife enthusiasts are the Leaf-tailed geckos (genus Uroplatus), some of which mimic dead leaves while others are bark mimics. The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus phantasticus, above, is the best known of the dead leaf mimics. Below is the bark-mimicking Fringed gecko, Uroplatus fimbriatus. Both species can be seen in protected rainforests such as Andasibe-Mantadia (‘Perinet’) which is visited on our Madagascar Reefs & Rainforests tour. Those travelling along the RN7 will visit the Ranomafana National Park, where the Fringed gecko was photographed, on our Classic Madagascar Overland: the RN7 Route tour.

Leaftailed gecko, photograph by Rainbow Tours client Chris Gurr Leaftailed gecko, photograph by Rainbow Tours client Chris Gurr
Giant jumping rat by Daniel Austin Giant jumping rat by Daniel Austin

Confined to a narrow range near Morondava, the endearing but endangered, hare-sized Giant jumping rat is Madagascar’s largest endemic rodent. In summer months, lucky visitors may see it hopping around like a little wallaby in the seasonally dry forest of Kirindy. Fortunately the species is breeding well at the Jersey Zoo as one of the subjects of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s SAFE projects (Saving Species from Extinction). 

Highland streaked tenrec by Daniel Austin Highland streaked tenrec by Daniel Austin
Tenrecs are primitive insectivores on Madagascar which fill the niches occupied by shrews, hedgehogs, voles and even desmans. The Highland streaked tenrec (above) can be seen in Andringitra National Park which can be included in itineraries such as out Classic Madagascar Overland: the RN7 Route.
 
Painted burrowing frog Painted burrowing frog

Madagascar boasts an incredibly diverse frog fauna, with well over 300 species described to date and many more awaiting formal classification. The clown of Malagasy amphibians, the brightly coloured Painted-burrowing frog, inhabits the sandstone formations of Isalo National Park and emerges briefly following rains in the austral summer. Isalo National Park is now Madagascar’s most  visited state-run protected area and is part of our popular RN7 Classic Madagascar Overland itinerary.

Schlegel’s asity by Callan Cohen Schlegel’s asity by Callan Cohen

The four members of the endemic Asity family are among Madagascar’s most interesting birds. During the breeding season, males develop near-fluorescent blue and green facial caruncles and are among the few birds to exhibit lek breeding behaviour. This rare photo of a Schlegel’s asity was taken by Callan Cohen in Ankarafantsika National Park (‘Ampijoroa’), the best known ‘stakeout’ for the species. The park is included in our popular Lemurs of Madagascar individual tour.

Fosa, Kirindy Forest by Daniel Austin Fosa, Kirindy Forest by Daniel Austin

Largest of the island’s carnivores, the fosa is a formidable predator of lemurs and resembles a small, elongated puma. The best place in which to see it is Kirindy Forest, where some individuals loiter around the rubbish pit and cooking area at the campsite. You can hope to spot a fosa on our Madagascar Wildlife Discovery Tour.

Flatid leaf bug by Daniel Austin Flatid leaf bug by Daniel Austin
Flatid leaf bugs adults (red) and nymphs (white). The nymphs excrete the white, waxy substance which grows into feathery shapes as a form of protection. They are commonly seen in some of the western and southern forests, notably Berenty Private Reserve, Ankarafantsika and Anjajavy both of which are on our Lemurs of Madagascar individual tour.
 
Thanks to Hilary and Daniel for the use of their photographs.
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