Fluffy grey and golden lemur looking down
Animals,  Happy Place Happy Space,  Madagascar,  Monday walks

In search of lemurs in Madagascar

And of all the lemurs the one I most wanted to see, and hear, was the Indri. This is the largest and most vocal of them all, and the one whom the Malagasy most revere. Many legends are told about Babakoto, as they call him. According to Wikipedia:

In some regions, two brothers were believed to have lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first indri. The indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.

Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two, but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions, only the son transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.

How pleased I was then that our first walk in one of Madagascar’s national parks was in the region where indris are most populous, in the east of the country. The biggest and best known park here is Andisibe/Mantadia, but we visited neighbouring Analamazaotra Special Reserve with a local naturalist guide, William.

Before even starting the walk he found two creatures near the entrance for us to enjoy and photograph. Firstly a young short horned chameleon which he told us was about 3 months old, and half its eventual size.

Small reptile on a branch
Young short horned chameleon

And secondly, a smaller yet fully grown nose horned chameleon.

Small reptile on a branch
Adult nose horned chameleon
Starting the walk

We entered the park and William showed us a map of the circuits and proposed that we should do the middle one of about 4.5 kilometres. I had hurt my leg the previous afternoon (stupidly barging into a heavy wooden bed frame) and it was badly bruised, but I felt up to tackling that, so off we set.

The path was paved with rough cut stones and quite easy for walking. Nevertheless I watched my steps carefully and left William to watch for wildlife.

Man seen from behind walking through a forest
William on the trail

The first thing he found was a grey bamboo lemur. It kept its distance though and was hard to focus my lens on through the trees. Next though came a green day gecko, much easier to photograph.

Green reptile with red marking on back on a large leaf
Green day gecko

Soon after that we reached the fork where the various circuits began. The path narrowed and after a short fairly level stretch, climbed up steep stone steps. At the top we stopped for a rest and to admire the view, then carried on along a wide earth path that was much easier to walk on although we had to watch out for tree roots.

Man seen from behind walking through a forest
William on the trail

As we walked we could hear the spooky call of the indri. William explained how they were impossible to keep in zoos because they needed a wide variety of native plants which they prefer to pick for themselves. There had been an experiment in Madagascar to try them in a large cage with all their preferred leaves being provided daily, but they went on hunger strike and refused to eat.

Unlike other lemurs, indris have no tail. They are monogamous and live in small female-dominated groups. Their distinctive calls include roars, wails and other noises, strung together in ‘songs’ that can last several minutes. I found the sound mesmerising and recorded a short video to capture it. The video is rather jerky, as I had to watch for tree roots while also trying to record and keep up with William and Chris ahead of me, but the sound is what matters here. If you only put your sound on for one of my videos, make it this one!

It wasn’t too long before William spotted one, or rather two indris: an adult with a baby. But they were high up, partly hidden by leaves and very hard to photograph! That didn’t stop me trying of course, and I managed a few shots of the adult.

Large black and white lemur up a tree
Large black and white lemur up a tree

Eventually we moved on, but not too much further. William soon veered off on a narrow path barely discernible between the bushes. He knew what he was doing as this brought us to a pair of diademed sifakas posing beautifully and looking very cute! Now my camera really did go into overdrive!

This is the next largest lemur after the indri, and one of the most attractive, with grey and golden fur.

We stayed with this pair for quite a long while, partly because a group of German visitors had arrived before us and had cornered the best viewpoints. As they jostled for position beneath the tree where the sifakas were sitting I was sure they would scare them away, but the lemurs must be so used to this level of attention that they weren’t fazed by it. Once the German group started to move on I seized my chance to get closer and grab some more shots, then stopped taking photos and simply watched them for a while. One was grooming the other, but rather half-heartedly.

Moving on

Eventually we made our way out of the thicket and back on to smoother paths. We saw another couple with a guide who had stopped to look at something, so we of course stopped too. It was an adult short horned chameleon so now we could see what the youngster we’ d photographed earlier would grow up to look like!

Reptile with bulging eye sitting on a branch
Adult short horned chameleon

Our path took us past a fish farm with carp and tilapia.

A local guy was standing by a no entry gate and spoke to William. Did we want to see a snake? Of course we did, especially knowing that Madagascar has no poisonous ones! He led us round one of the ponds to a ditch where he pulled some leaves aside to reveal the snake curled up: a Madagascar tree boa.

Snake coiled up in grass
Madagascar tree boa

Soon after this we arrived back at the start of our walk. There were more lemurs to come later that day, and later in the trip, but for now a cold drink was needed. A good point at which to end the first of my Malagasy Monday Walks for Jo. I’m sharing too with Ju-Lyn’s ‘Happy Place, Happy Space’ challenge, as I’m always happy to spend time with beautiful creatures like these!

I visited Madagascar in October/November 2023


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