Hilary Bradt on why Madagascar stole her heart
Hilary Bradt on why Madagascar stole her heart
We were delighted that Madagascar expert and Bradt guide author herself, Hilary Bradt MBE, joined us in October 2018 for our Madagascar Wildlife Extravaganza tour with fellow island authority Daniel Austin.
To celebrate this superb tour, we thought we’d catch up with Hilary to quiz her on all things Madagascar. Here’s what she had to say…
• You’ve been visiting Madagascar since 1976: what is it about the island that has compelled you to return so many times since then?
The wonderful thing is that I never get tired of Madagascar. Each time I visit I see something extraordinary: a new species, perhaps, or a wonderful new NGO project, or I’m just reminded what an amazing country it is – in the true sense of the word. The French naturalist J P Commerson got it so right in 1770: “There one meets the most strange and marvellous forms at every step.”
• What is your favourite place there?
I’m often asked that question and in a country of superlatives it’s so hard to answer. Perhaps the Tsingy de Bemaraha, because it’s not only an extraordinary landscape of limestone pinnacles but the wildlife is equally impressive. One without the other would be rewarding, but to have both Tsingy and several species of lemur and other animals in one place makes it remarkable. That said, I never get tired of Andasibe. It’s usually the first reserve that a visitor sees, and I always love the “Oh wow!” factor when they first see and hear an indri.
• Any particular moments or experiences that stand out in terms of being truly memorable?
I can pick out two of the countless Madagascar memories lodged in my brain. The first is seeing my first Panther chameleon in Nosy Be a few days after arriving on the totally unspoilt island in 1976. We were in a taxi when I saw the flash of brilliant green in a bush and knew what it was. At my screech of delight the driver stopped and I can remember thinking I’d never seen anything so wonderful (I had kept pet dwarf chameleons in South Africa so was already an enthusiast).
The other was about 35 years later when we spotted a Twig-mimic snake in Anjajavy. It’s such an extraordinary animal anyway, but what made it special was that I was with just a few people accompanied by a member of staff, not a naturalist guide – the rest of the group had gone off bird watching. She just happened to notice this twig that moved!
• If you had to recommend one place in the country to first time visitors, where would it be?
Andasibe – and Lemur Island, even though some people frown at this semi-zoo. But the lemur-on-your-shoulder is such a special experience.
• When did you bring out the first edition of Madagascar: The Bradt Travel Guide?
I actually wrote a chapter on Madagascar in the second Bradt guide ever published: Backpackers’ Africa, in 1977. It was the first information about the island to appear in English. The very first guide to Madagascar was printed in 1984. I called it A Glance at Madagascar and I wrote it for the few tour operators who were sending groups to Madagascar since there was no information about the country and I had been leading tours there for a couple of years. Then came a No Frills Guide to Madagascar in 1986 and the first ‘proper’ guide in 1988. It has been updated every two or three years since then and is now in its 12th edition.
• What, to you, are the country’s lowlights?
I’m one of those irritating people who don’t really see the negative side of things. Other people might say the poverty, but I don’t notice that. I suppose it’s the relentless deforestation but I’m equally encouraged at all the reforestation projects.
• And its highlights?
Everything! I’m reminded of a letter I received in the early days from a traveller. She said: “I went to Madagascar for the lemurs but it’s the people who stole my heart”.
• Do you see tourism as a positive force? Has it contributed to conservation in Madagascar?
Yes, it’s one thing I feel passionately about. Since my first visit in 1976 I’ve seen so many wonderful conservation projects and met so many dedicated conservationists that I am optimistic about the country’s future. In those early days in the 1970s it was struggling under a communist government with very little attention paid to the wildlife or encouraging tourism. That has been turned around and tourists have played a vital role in convincing the locals of the value of their flora and fauna.
• What is the most inspiring charity currently active in the country?
There are so many. Blue Ventures do tremendous work in marine conservation – they have made an enormous difference. My personal favourite, because I’ve known them for so long, is the Centre Fihavanana in Tana. The work they do with street kids is so inspiring and I love bringing groups there.
• Any tips for first time visitors?
Relax and enjoy it. Remember that you are not going to change Madagascar, but Madagascar might change you.
Join Hilary on our Madagascar Wildlife Extravaganza with Daniel Austin & Hilary Bradt 2018. Our team of Travel Specialists can give you more information and put a quote together for your Madagascar tour.
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