Wednesday, April 15, 2015


In October 2014, I flew off to a place I've always wanted to see, Madagascar. It takes some doing to get there and a fair bit of money, but I thought the chance to see lemurs in their own habitat would be worth it. I'm not so sure that it was, but I'll get to the many reasons why later.

As always on this blog, you can click any photo to enlarge it. At the bottom of the page, click "Older Posts" to continue on with the trip in order.

I flew from Los Angeles to New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, and on to Antananarivo, the capital city, familiarly known as Tana. I would have a lot of experience flying into and out of Tana because the road infrastructure there is appalling. Many of the roads are unpaved and unmaintained, and a lot of those that are paved were built by the French after World War II and not maintained much at all since. Consequently, you fly to whatever place you want to see, and then fly back to Tana afterwards so you can fly out to the next destination - rinse and repeat.

Tana is a sprawling city of over 2 million people and not a single traffic signal - I was told they'd put a few in years ago, but decided the experiment was not a success, so they ditched them. You may imagine the chaos that results...roads are shared by pushcarts, Zebu-pulled carts, cars, vans serving as buses, people walking, bicycles, etc.

 Anyway, it's got a number of charming old colonial buildings:

A commenter to this post says that the red house below is not a colonial building, but instead the house of Prince Ratsimamanga before his execution by the French: 

This is the palace, gutted by fire in 1995, of Queen Ranavalona I, an isolationist ruler whose reliance on forced labor and a large standing army reduced the island's population by half in the 33 years of her reign. Not very popular, to say the least.

 A panorama of the city near sundown - the palace is on the hill in the upper right corner of the photograph:

Taxis in Tana are virtually all ancient Citroen 2CV (deux chevaux), a vehicle discontinued in 1990 (although I question whether any of Tana's are that recent):

Morondava - Avenue of the Baobabs

First stop was Morondava, on the west coast of Madagascar. It's a place of dry deciduous forest, and noted for its Avenue of the Baobabs. Of the nine species of baobabs, six are native to Madagascar. The trees here were once a great forest, now dramatically reduced by cultivation of farms, which is a problem all over Madagascar, where only 10% of its forests remain, and logging continues. Anyway, these trees are so odd and so dramatic that it's difficult to stop taking photos of them, especially at sunset. I'm doing my best to only inflict the best on you here!


Locals harvest large sheets of barks from the trees for roofing material and as long as they don't girdle the tree, it seems to do them no harm. Here's a scar from a past harvest and after it, a photo of a home roofed with strips of baobab bark:

Morondava - Camp Amoureaux

Tourism isn't much developed anywhere in Madagascar, interestingly enough, and least of all on the west coast. Camp Amoureaux is about the best, although accommodation is pretty much a tent on a platform. Here's the twined pair of baobabs that give the camp its name:


 Le shower:

 Le toilet:

Pretty flowering trees at the camp; I don't know the name of this one:

An uncarina:

Morondava - Critters and Birds

The largest (about 20 lbs) carnivorous mammal on Madagascar is the endemic fossa. It's a tree climber and about half its diet consists of lemurs. There was a tame-ish one hanging around another camp I visited:

A mongoose, which I think we might be forgiven for mistaking for a squirrel:

And one of the more peculiar insects I've ever seen, the flatid bug. These are juveniles:

The birds are trickier to photograph, but I did my best. Here's a Madagascar Hoopoe:

A female Magpie Robin:
Her mate is an altogether flashier proposition:

This beauty is a male juvenile Paradise Flycatcher. He was, fortunately for me, engaging in a aerial skirmish with a mature male, who is the handsome black and white number following:


Lemurs! Lemurs! Lemurs!

Yes, I know this is what you really want to see. Mouse lemur, a nocturnal species:

Brown lemurs:

Verreaux's Sifaka (pronounced shiffock), known to your children as Zooboomafoo:

 Mom and baby:

Supremely unconcerned about your presence:


From Tana, we were off to the northeast of Madagascar to see Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve. We stayed at l'Hippocampe guesthouse in Maroansetra

We took a little cruise up the inland waterway the guesthouse is set on.


 Some leguminous tree
 Madagascar Kingfisher

Green-backed Heron

Green crab

Zebu, a sub-species of domestic cattle that originated in South Asia and is especially adapted to tropical countries, a good thing considering Madagascar's climate.