21 Oct
Days adrift.  Click here to see our best and worst experiences so far.
Number of flights.  Click here to go to the itinerary page.
Bus, train and taxi rides.  Click here to see all posts relating to transport. (56 posts)
Miles walked.  Click here to see all posts relating to walking and trekking. (43 posts)
Countries visited.  Click here to see what we think of them. (14 posts)
Number of species spotted.  Click here to go to our wildlife page.
Photos taken.  Click here to go to the photo gallery. (94 posts)
Rainy days.  Click here to find posts relating to the weather. (50 posts)
Number of times scammed.  Click here to read all about it!  (2 posts)
Otters spotted.  Click here to go to our website about otters: amblonyx.com
...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

28 September 2010

Guiding light

Written by Maureen

After two weeks in Madagascar looking for wildlife, I am filled with respect for the local guides.

Jacqui, our guide in Ankarafantsika (in the middle)In Ankarafantsika, there was Jacqui, a mellow guy who spoke softly and walked quietly. He showed us many birds, including the impressive Madagascar fishing eagle and the cutely named buttonquail.

In Matadia, we were guided by the indefatigable Luc who took us on a six and a half hour marathon walk in virgin jungle. Luc washing his macheteWalking in the rainforest isn’t like walking anywhere else, the terrain is often steep, the ground slippery and muddy. As I barged through the thick vegetation and contorted around immovable branches, my mind got stuck on one theme: leeches getting into my socks, leeches crawling down my neck, leeches sucking on my eyeball… But, running on super unleaded fear, I survived the walk and the next day, Luc brought a machete along.

Emile is the godfather of guides in Ranomafana. He helped the original researchers build a case for creating the national park over 20 years ago. We got to know the ring of his mobile phone very well (dubbed the lemur-line) as other guides reported back the whereabouts of various lemurs. Emile gently extracting bamboo frogs from their homeIncidentally, he was carrying around an unknown-to-science super-tiny snake in a plastic bag because he hadn’t time to count its scales. Apparently each species of these tiny snakes has a different number of scales and that is how you identify them! Emile is full of information like that. What he doesn’t know is not worth knowing.

The Madagascar rainforest is absolutely full of astonishing wildlife. Did you know that there are five species of frogs which live their entire lives inside bamboo stems? We saw some! So far, more than sixty endemic species of snakes have been identified, none of which are poisonous. An extraordinary array of creatures rely on disguise as a means of survival, including the leaf-litter frog and I-forget-how-many species of chameleons. There is one, however, which the guides love best, and is the focus of their favourite game…

Mischevious guide, indicating an area the size of a rubik’s cube: In here there is an animal. Can you see it?
Us, after several minutes of searching: No, is it a leaf-tailed gecko by any chance?
Guide, enjoying himself: Yes
Us, after more searching: How large is it?
Guide, nonchalantly: Oh, about this size.
Us, eventually: Oh, alright, we give up. Where is it?
Guide is now speechless with mirth and can only point to the leaf-tailed gecko doing what they do best, pretending to be a leaf.
Us, amazed: How on earth did you see that???

Can you see what it is yet?

So, thanks to our guides for making our visit in Madagascar special!

Now, time for some pointless statistics:

  • We were in Madagascar for two weeks, and visited three national parks
  • We saw 20 species of lemur, 74 species of birds, 8 species of chameleon, 3 types of snakes, countless frogs and lizards, and one special tenrec. We learnt about plants and their uses, as well as a great deal about Malagasy life
  • We took one internal flight, and rode in six different cars, due to an unforeseen breakdown in Matadia!
  • We spent 43 hours in the car (I slept through half of this) and travelled over 2,000km. We did around 50 hours of walking in search of wildlife, the most being 9 hours in one day.

Experiences we enjoyed most: 1. Being with the indri when they sing, 2. Watching Malagasy people going about their business, 3. Learning about the cool amphibians and lizards Emile showed us, 4. Finding a tenrec all by ourselves, 5. Having lemur crawl all over us on Lemur island (even though this generated extra laundry afterwards…)

Experiences we enjoyed least: 1. Not quite adapting fully to Malagasy food (which is however delicious), 2. Hours trampling through the jungle when there’s no lemur at the end of it, 3. Sharing lemur encounters with a dozen noisy Germans.

And finally, here’s a mini-gallery of photos of us for our friends at home. We miss you too!

2 Responses to “Guiding light”

  1. Nessa says:

    What is a tenrec?

    Loving the pictures of you both with your accessories!

    • shortclaws says:

      Ah-hah! Tenrecs are a very primitive kind of mammal, which on Madagascar have evolved into lots of varieties that fill the same niches as all kinds of other mammals do elsewhere. So there are hedgehog-like tenrecs and shrew-like tenrecs and even an otter-like tenrec, for instance.

      I’ve added a photo of the baby tenrec we saw to the bottom of the “Madagascar nutshell” blog.

Leave a Reply