Exploring one of the planet’s most unique–and imperiled–biodiversity hotspots with Nat Hab and WWF.
Mandehandeha mahita raha.
Those who travel see much.
I was raised on stories of the geat red island. In the 1960s, my mother moved to Madagascar, and in 1972 my parents met in the city of the thousand–Antananarivo. I served three years in the Peace Corps in Madagascar, and then returned for research before joining WWF’s TRAFFIC team, a network which ensures that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.
In August, I joined a group of Nat Hab travelers on a fourteen-day journey beginning on Madagascar’s central plateau. We were a dynamic crew of twelve from the United States, Australia, South Africa and Madagascar. We flew over muddy rice fields, tracked elusive lemurs on steep mountain slopes, and boated through mangroves with Madagascar fish eagles overhead. We experienced an astounding diversity of ecosystems in our short two weeks. These systems support some of the most unique–and imperiled–plant and animal species on earth.
Before a period of political instability in 2009, Madagascar’s tourism sector–which provides vital income to communities bordering Parks and Protected Areas–was growing. According to our guide, in 2008, 230,000 visitors traveled to the island. This number dropped to just 1,600 in 2009. As political stability returned, visitor numbers have risen to roughly 25,000 in 2015. With so few tourists, our group had intimate experiences in many of the island’s most famous national parks–exploring biomes ranging from rain forest to dry deciduous forest, spiny desert, coastal mangrove, and baobab forest.
Today, Madagascar’s fragmented network of national parks and protected areas supports islands within an island of original habitat. These sanctuaries offer refuge to an array of reptiles, amphibians, mammals and plants that fascinate scientists.
New discoveries are constantly being made in Madagascar. Today, the total number of lemur species on the island is believed to be over 100. Ninety percent of these are threatened with extinction.
Over the course of our 14-day journey, we spotted 20 nocturnal and diurnal lemurs. Our sightings ranged from Madagascar’s acrobatic Verreaux’s, Diademed and Coquerel’s sifaka, to its iconic ring-tailed lemurs, to tiny mouse lemurs with ears that twitch like bats, to child-sized indri whose haunting songs reverberate in the forest canopy.
The group’s lemur sightings also included spectacular behavior, such as this adult Coquerel’s sifaka (Propithecus coquereli) teaching an infant to forage in the dry forest canopy at Anjajavy.
And this inquisitive common brown lemur (Eulemur fulvus) scanning for danger on his search for a source of fresh water in the arid coastal deciduous forest.
In Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, we found a radio-collared diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema).
And in the space of three days we spotted three species of bamboo lemur–including a rare encounter with a critically endangered greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus). This fellow dropped to the forest floor to munch the shoots of a cyanide-rich bamboo stalk in Ranomafana National Park.
Tanora mamboly hazo, antitra manankialofana.
Those who plant trees in their youth will have shade when they grow old.
WWF has supported conservation and development programs in Madagascar for over 50 years. Programs have focused on community-based natural resource monitoring and management, environmental education, ecotourism, alternative energy and income generation, along with a range of other activities that benefit livelihoods and biodiversity.
Rachel Kramer is Senior Program Officer for TRAFFIC on WWF’s Wildlife Conservation team. A Madagascar expert, she accompanied the August 2015 Nat Hab trip, exploring National Parks in the island’s center, south and northwest of the island. Her group had close encounters with a wide range of primates, birds and reptiles found nowhere else on earth, and learned about conservation and development challenges in rural Madagascar.