Where to see Madagascar's Weird and Wonderful Wildlife

By Derek Schuurman


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Where to see Madagascar's Weird and Wonderful Wildlife

Where to see Madagascar's Weird and Wonderful Wildlife

Rainbow Tours’ author, keen naturalist and conservation writer, Derek Schuurman, teamed up with some accomplished wildlife photographer friends to present a roundup of some of Madagascar’s strangest and most sought-after life forms, which regularly appear on the wish lists of visiting nature enthusiasts.

Here are their top ten, along with some details as to where you may seek them on our Madagascar holidays.

Aye aye (photo by Daniel Austin, Bradt Guides author) Aye aye (photo by Daniel Austin, Bradt Guides author)

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 furtive and usually difficult to spot in the wild. The best place in which to seek it is at Le Palmarium in the eastern lowlands, where some have been released onto a wooded island and are well habituated to human presence.

Radio-collared Aye ayes are also being studied at Kianjavato, near Ranomafana, where we can arrange night excursions in order to seek them. However this option shoult be considered only by visitors with a high level of fitness.  

Female Spear-nosed snake at Anjajavy Forest Reserve by Hilary Bradt Female Spear-nosed snake at Anjajavy Forest Reserve 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.
 
Satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) by Daniel Austin - this species is often seen at Ranomafana NP Satanic leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus phantasticus) by Daniel Austin - this species is often seen at Ranomafana NP

A firm 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, photographed here by Daniel, 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. Another superb locality is the private park at Domain de Fontenay, near Montagne d'Ambre National Park. 

Fringed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus), photograph by Rainbow Tours client Chris Gurr at Ranomafana Fringed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus), photograph by Rainbow Tours client Chris Gurr at Ranomafana
Giant jumping rat photographed by Daniel Austin Giant jumping rat photographed by Daniel Austin

Confined to a worryingly narrow range near Morondava, the endearing but Endangered, hare-sized Giant jumping rat is Madagascar’s largest endemic rodent. In spring and summer months, lucky visitors may see it hopping around like a little wallaby in the seasonally dry forest of Kirindy in the desperately threatened Menabe Antimena Protected Area near Morondava. 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 (Daniel Austin, Bradt Guides) Highland streaked tenrec (Daniel Austin, Bradt Guides)
The Tenrecs are primitive Malagasy insectivores which fill the niches occupied by shrews, hedgehogs, voles and even desmans. Many look somewhat like hedgehogs. The Highland streaked tenrec, photographed by Daniel Austin, can be seen in Andringitra and Ranomafana National Parks. When threatened, they raise their punk-like prickles and will even head-put would-be predators.  
 
Painted burrowing frog Painted burrowing frog

Madagascar boasts an exceptionally diverse frog fauna, with well over 350 species described to date and many more awaiting formal classification. The clown of Malagasy amphibians, the brightly coloured and fossorial Painted-burrowing frog, inhabits the dry sandstone mountains at Isalo National Park and emerges briefly following rains in the austral summer. (December to March) 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 and unsual birds. During the breeding season, males of all 4 develop near-fluorescent blue and green facial caruncles and are among the few birds to exhibit lek breeding behaviour. This photo of a Schlegel’s asity was taken by one of our birding specialist friends Callan Cohen (Birding Africa)  in Ankarafantsika National Park (‘Ampijoroa’), the best known ‘stakeout’ for the species. 

Fosa (Fossa) yawning on the forest floor at Kirindy Fosa (Fossa) yawning on the forest floor at Kirindy

Largest of the island’s carnivores, the Fosa (Fossa) is a formidable predator of lemurs and resembles a small, elongated puma. The best place in which to see it , is Kirindy Forest which falls under the Menabe Antimena Protected Area. There, some habituated individuals loiter around the rubbish pit and cooking area at the researchers' camp. Female Fosa are site-faithful, so during the mating season in November, they return to the same tall tree at which they are courted by a number of male suitors.  

Flatid leaf bug by Daniel Austin Flatid leaf bug by Daniel Austin
Flatid leaf bugs adults (red) and their 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 Forest Reserve. 
 
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