One such reserve is V.O.I.M.M.A. in the Andasibe area. The acronym stands for Vondron’olona miaro mitia ala, which translates to ‘Local people love the forest’. And they do!
We had already visited this reserve on our first night walk in Madagascar. On our last morning in this area our local guide William took us back to the park to see it in daylight. We drove through Andasibe village, where I took my feature photo through the window as we passed.
A sacred tree
To my surprise, our first stop here wasn’t to see wildlife. This is a sacred tree which William explained is held to be so because no one has ever been able to identify the species. Its leaves change each year, and it produces no fruit or seeds so doesn’t reproduce. It is thought to be thousands of years old. Malagasy people come here to leave offerings to ask for help or in gratitude when they receive it. They also make sacrifices of zebu and chicken, after which the blood is poured into the tree stump as an offering.
We crossed a river and William pointed out the spider’s web stretching right across it, and the spider hanging from it, a Darwin’s bark spider.
Soon after leaving the river we turned off on to a narrower path, still fairly flat but with some steps. The reason for the detour became obvious when we heard the unmistakable sound of the Indri. We reached a point where we could see one high in the trees above us. To get closer meant a trickier path. So William went along it with Chris while I waited on the main path with Michel. We were rewarded with a reasonable sighting from there and I also recorded the alarm call.
As we continued our walk we passed some impressive bracket fungus, and William pointed out an orchid, Oeonia Rosea. This is endemic to Madagascar. The country has about 1,000 orchid species, of which about 850 are endemic to the island. I wondered how many William could identify on sight? Probably all of those that grow in this area, judging by his excellent knowledge about everything we saw here!
Our next sightings were certainly tiny and hard to spot. In a clump of spiny pandanus he pointed out us a pandanus weevil, and tiny (but full-grown) pandanus frog. The latter is endemic, unlike the weevil. And without William we wouldn’t have even noticed them!
There was one more treat in store, a family of common brown lemurs, with one on the path right in front of us.
The path ended by a small shop selling local handicrafts. Many of the items are made by local women so I was happy to help them by buying a little chameleon made from palm leaves. The shopkeeper was grateful far more than my tiny purchase deserved. The colourful creature now sits on a shelf in our kitchen.
It was good to know our small payment would help to support the community and to maintain this patch of forest. It is generally thought that the island has lost 80 or 90% of its ‘pre-human’ forest cover. And certainly evidence from aerial photographs suggests that by c. 2000, around 40% to 50% of the forest cover present in 1950 had been lost. How essential is that then that what remains is preserved, and how fantastic is that local communities are now stepping up and doing their bit.
Sharing as always for Jo and her Monday Walks.
I visited Madagascar in October/November 2023