A wildlife-lover's guide to night walks in Madagascar
When the sun sets over Madagascar...
After dark, a very different cast of intriguing characters emerge from their daytime resting places, making the island's wildlife hotspots a wonderful experience for those who enjoy getting to know nocturnal fauna.
Red-tailed sportive lemur, Kirindy Forest (Fiona Herring)
Lemur lovers can seek Woolly lemurs (Avahi); various species of goggly-eyed Sportive lemurs (Lepilemurs); Dwarf lemurs (in summer only as these are the only Primates to aestivate/hibernate) and the adorable, diminutive Mouse lemurs, among others. Just outside the periphery of Ranomafana National Park, the Rufous mouse lemur (photo above) was recently spotted and photographed by Rainbow Tours specialist, Craig Kaufman.
The hero image at the top of the page feaures the cat-sized Aye aye. Elusive and nationally scarce, it can be seen on a wooded islet at Palmarium Private Reserve or Kianjavato near Ranomafana, and this photograph was taken by Naturalist Daniel Austin.
Keen birders can look for Owls, of which there are seven species, and Nightjars, of which there are two species - most of which are located fairly easily.
Brookesia vadoni, Eric Mathieu
'Herps' galore await
But its really herpetologists who will be in their element: famed for its exceptionally diverse reptile and frog fauna, of which the vast majority are endemic to the island and with more species new to science being described every year, seeing a variety of Chameleons, Geckoes, Snakes and Frogs, on a night walk is definitely on the cards.
High on the list of visiting wildlife enthusiasts are reptiles such as Chameleons and the bizarre Leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus).
Famously, Madagascar is home to more than half of the world's chameleon species, with new discoveries still being made almost every year. As they initially reflect white in torchlight, they are easy to locate with the help of an experienced guide. Above: Brookesia vadoni, one of the many species of Stumptailed or 'leaf' chameleons, inhabits rainforests in the north-east. This one was photographed by our friend, Eric Mathieu.
Leaf-tailed gecko, Craig Kaufman
The Leaftailed geckos (Uroplatus) are some of Madagascar's most distinctive and iconic animals, with some resembling bark and others looking like dead leaves. All are masters of camoflage. Around places like Montagne d'Ambre National Park, where our Craig Kaufman photographed this Spearpoint leaf-tailed gecko (above), visitors stand a chance of seeing two or three species of this remarkable genus.
The world's smallest primate, the endangered Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, Kirindy Forest (Gerald Cubitt)
You can seek our tiniest cousins
Long recognised as one of Madagascar's most rewarding localities for night walks, the fascinating Kirindy Forest in western Madagascar not only claims a world record for primate density among comparably-sized dry forests, but is also the place in which to seek the endangered Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, tiniest of all the world's primates. (Photographed here by Gerald Cubitt)
Restricted to a few tracts of dry deciduous forest in the Menabe region between Morondava and the Tsiribihina River, our tiniest cousin is in danger of disappearing along with its forest home, currently under excruciating pressure from a burgeoning human population. By visiting the forests of the Menabe, tourists provide an income to permanently resident communities who appreciate the value of their wildlife roaming free in their forest homes. (These forests suffered catastrophic damage due to fire in August 2018).
The endangered Giant jumping rat can only be seen at Kirindy in Menabe-Antimena PA. (Daniel Austin)
And you can delight in weird and wonderful surprises
If you had to pick one location for a truly fascinating selection of rare nocturnal mammals, then Kirindy Forest would be it. Not only is Kirindy - along with nearby Marofandilia - the best place in which to seek the world's smallest primate (Madame Berthe's mouse lemur), but it is also where people come to look for Fosa (Madagascar's largest carnivore) and the hare-sized, Giant jumping rat, an endangered inhabitant of the Menabe region.
Our regular tour leader, Bradt Guide author Daniel Austin, photographed this one (above) close to the Kirindy campsite. When threatened, it hops like a little kangaroo in its baobab forest home.
Rainbow Tours' top tips for making the most of your night walks
The following recommendations from our Travel Specialists can come in handy to prepare you for night walks in Madagascar:
- Take a good torch with some spare batteries - examples are in the photo above (near Masoala Forest Lodge in coastal north-eastern rainforest).
- Try to avoid full moon as then you are less likely to see a lot of wildlife out and about at night.
- Aim to enter the forest within the first two hours of sunset as the nocturnal wildlife is at its most active then.
- Remember that inside state run national parks, night walks are not permitted, but the park guides know where to take guests in the same habitat just outside boundaries. This restriction does not apply to private reserves or community-managed protected areas of biological interest.
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