The misty rainforest of Andasibe...
From the dry, hot heat of the desert south of Isalo and Ifaty we took a short flight from Toliara back to the capital, Tana. We were on the next leg of our trip heading east to Andasibe. Completely unlike from where we had come, it was an area of lush rainforest which I was most looking forward to visit. As you'd expect with it being rainforest its inhabitants are vast in variety, ranging from tiny and brightly coloured tree frogs to the largest lemur alive in Madagascar, the Indri. Because of its biodiversity it was recognised as a World Heritage Site in 2007. It is one of the most visited parks in Madagascar as it is easy to get to from the capital. Around a three hour drive east from Tana and you're there. Don't let the volume of visitors put you off though, it is an enchanting place. Early morning mist shrouds the rainforest and the hauntingly beautiful sound of the Indri calling gets your goose bumps going. Every morning I'd hear them call out their territorial call and I could do nothing but smile, it was magical. If you've not heard the sound go to YouTube and search for it, or better still book a trip to Madagascar and hear it for yourself. It sounds rather like whale song and pierces through the forest, it's unmistakable. In fact, the first time I heard it was arriving at a local restaurant for lunch just before getting to the hotel. We were sat on a balcony overlooking the forest and, as Common Brown Lemurs jumped through the trees, the sound hit my ears. At first it was quiet and I wasn't sure if my ears were playing tricks with me, but then it grew louder and louder. I looked around and everyone sat in the restaurant was smiling in awe at it. It was tantalising as, while we didn't see the Indri then, it didn't matter and was made all the more ethereal for that very reason. Our first proper sighting of the Indri would come later that afternoon.
Lined Day Gecko, Analamazoatra Reserve
It goes without saying, but I can't emphasise enough the importance of having a guide with local knowledge of the area. Our guide for our time in Andasibe was Barry; a hugely passionate man about his local forest. I have nothing but praise for him. I have spent a lot of time with different wildlife guides across the world but with Barry you could really tell he loved what he did and genuinely cared for his fellow 'wild' neighbours. The park is comprised of two areas; Analamazoatra Reserve and Mantadia National Park. As our main interest in visiting Madagascar was for its wildlife we spent more time in Analamazoatra Reserve - it is easier to find and watch wildlife here than the primary rainforest of Mantadia. It is also arguably the best place to see the Indri which is the main reason for most for visiting. Mantadia is not to be missed though. You feel like you've been transported back to a primeval time when prehistoric beasts roamed the earth. After checking in to the hotel we were off again into the Analamazoatra Reserve as Barry was keen to show us the Indri and anything else along the way. Despite it being one of the most visited parks in Madagascar Barry led us to a small family of three Indri; two adults and a baby. The Indri is known locally as 'Babakoto' which is ambiguous in its translation. One belief is that it means "grandfather" while another says it means "little father". They have been described as looking like overgrown teddy bears due to their fluffy and tufted ears. It was a fantastic experience to be able to get so close to them and being at their level as opposed to looking up through the tree canopy.
Black and White Ruffed Lemur, Vakona Lodge, Andasibe
While the Indri is certainly one of the main attractions to visiting Andasibe the real highlight for me, and indeed for my time in Madagascar, was coming up close and personal to a troop of Diademed Sifakas. They're regarded as the most beautiful of all lemurs with golden yellow fur on their legs and arms, silvery white and grey fur on their body and head, and with blood red eyes piercing through a jet black face. While walking through the Analamazoatra Reserve Barry spotted a troop of these Sifakas bounding through the tree tops. Their agility was amazing and we struggled to keep up. Suddenly they stopped and came down to the ground in an area spot-lit by the afternoon sun. They proceeded to rest right in front of us. Barry explained that this behaviour is rare as they prefer to spend time in the trees away from the Indri. We couldn't believe our good fortune! Even rarer was the fact that this is the only troop of Diademed Sifakas in the Analamazoatra Reserve, having been introduced in 2008 due to the population increasing in the nearby reserve of Mantadia. It has to go down as one of the most incredible moments of my time photographing wildlife - being close enough to watch and photograph a troop of these lemurs on the ground with a wide angle lens is something I could never have hoped to witness. Not only that, but they were so relaxed they all proceeded to play-fight with one another.
Short Horned Chameleon, Mitsinjo Reserve
Andasibe is also an area of Madagascar that's great for nocturnal photography. The rainforest is rich in frog and chameleon biodiversity which are best seen at night, as well as tiny mouse lemurs. Obviously, I squeezed in as many night walks as possible while I was there. The first area we visiting was in a reserve known as Mitsinjo. I was particularly keen to support this reserve as it was formed by residents of the local village in 1999, called Association Mitsinjo. In 2003 they gained management of Analamazoatra Forest Station, one of the best places to see the Indri. Association Mitsinjo provides employment for more than 50 members of the local community. Roughly half of their employees are certified tourist guides for the Andasibe area, while others work on a project by project basis. In total, their activities have an effect on more than 400 households in the Andasibe area. It is the perfect example of how the local community is working in harmony with nature; so vital in a place like Madagascar where deforestation is rife and discoveries for medicinal purposes and advancements in science are still being found.
Madagascar Tree Frog, Analamazoatra Reserve
Along with Mitsinjo, we took night walks along the road as, according to Barry, this was a good area to look for frogs. I was particularly hoping to see some of the tree frogs endemic to Madagascar, and indeed we came across a Green Bright-Eyed Frog. No bigger than my thumb, they're vibrantly coloured and surprisingly loud. We also came across the same tree frog species as in Ranomafana, a Madagascar Tree Frog sleeping on a banana leaf. Of course we saw a number of different chameleon species here. The first being a stunning Short Horned Chameleon roosting in low vegetation. The most distinctive feature of the Short Horned Chameleon is its large, ear-like occipital lobes. When threatened, it raises its ear-like flaps to increase its apparent size. Somehow Barry managed to find a bright green Canopy Chameleon. This was remarkable considering they normally live high up in the treetops; hence their name. We did see another species of mouse lemur here too, this time the Goodman's Mouse Lemur. However, they moved like lightning up in the trees and it was almost impossible to get a photograph. They were fantastic to watch though so I put the camera down and followed their antics with a torch.
Canopy Chameleon, Analamazoatra Reserve
I also spent a little bit of time coming up close and personal to habituated lemurs at Vakona Forest Lodge, where lemurs have been brought out of the pet trade to live in a semi-wild state with no cages or bars, and are able to roam free as they please. It was a great opportunity for photography and especially wide angle photography.
Red Fronted Brown Lemur, Vakona Lodge
I could go on and on about Andasibe as it was so rich in wildlife and everywhere you looked or turned there was something interesting to see. No trip to Madagascar should be without a visit to this amazing place.