Day 7. We are up early, packed and loaded in the bus. After yesterday’s excitement at Lemur Island, everyone is buzzing in anticipation to see what this day will bring. We begin in the town of Ambositra where we took rickshaws to the local market. Along the way, we stopped to learn about the 18 tribes that inhibit the island and how each of the tribes differ in dialect, beliefs, appearances and traditions. These differences were ever-present in the bustling market square – a lively maze of stands, packed with people selling their various handmade goods, meats, rice and vegetables.
On our way out of Ambositra, we pass breathtaking, green mountain landscapes as we head towards Ranomafana, undoubtedly one of Madagascar’s most spectacular national parks. The densely-forested hills of this protected area are characterized by numerous small streams, which plummet down to the majestic Namorona River, to create a perfect home for the park’s inhabitants. Within the 161 square miles of the park there are 12 lemur species, 7 species of tenrecs, 8 bats, and 6 carnivores. Birds are also widespread throughout this tropical rainforest accounting for a jaw-dropping 115 catalogued species themselves! The immense wildlife biodiversity is furthered by 62 species of reptiles, 98 frog species, 90 species of butterfly and 350 spider species! I’m more than thrilled at the thought that we’ll be in the park in just a couple of hours.
Upon arrival, we met with our guides for a short night hike. The chameleon density was unbelievable, within about 30 meters we spotted 30 individuals from 6 species. I can’t wait to see what all we’ll find tomorrow with daylight on our side. That evening we stayed at the ValBio Research Center gathering for a presentation by Dr. Razafimahaimadidon on the current researcher projects taking place within the park.
Waking at daybreak I stepped out into the crisp air and the sounds of birds chirping. This place is stunning! Today we will be planting trees on the land of a local farmer. He, like so many others, had cut down trees to expand his farm, not realizing the damage their removal would have on his land. Now he welcomes the trees as they will help with erosion and provide habitat for wildlife. The hike up to his farm was intense but well worth it. We planted 100 seedlings that morning.
With our work done, it was time to head into the rainforest. Our goal, simple: to see as many things and species as we possibly can. With our knowledgeful guides leading the pack, we knew we would not be disappointed. Madagascar guides train for 2 years and have to be recertified annually. They truly know their stuff!
A warm drizzling rain shadowed us as we worked our way up the slippery muddy trail. Thankfully, the rain subsided and the sun’s rays broke through the canopy, illuminating the beauty around us. One of the first things to catch my eye was a strangely-shaped, oblong nest of some sort. I asked our guide what it was. “This is the home for the ants” he informs me. I must have had a puzzled expression as he continued, “The forest floor is too wet for them to build on the ground, they would drown.” He bent and pressed his hand to the ground, water squished up between his fingers. I gave him a nod of understanding and we carried on. Not much time had passed before he was summoning me over to a tree, “Here you see, a Land Leech. They love the moisture the rainforest provides.” I had heard of Land Leeches, but this was my first time actually seeing one. I was amazed! They were nothing like the leeches I’ve encountered in the states. These guys looked more like the mealworms we feed our bearded dragon at the Cook Museum!
We pushed on heading to the overlook, cutting through switchback trails when out of nowhere I catch a glimpse of what appears to be tombstones, very old tombstones! Covered in moss, so green and lush, it seemed to melt into the forest floor. Our guide explained, “These are the ancient Tombs of Tanala – the “People of the Forest””.
By the end of the hike I’d seen a dwarf chameleon, several species of lemurs – including the Milne-Edward’s sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi), a pair of Collard NightJars (Gactornis enarratus), a Madagascar Scops Owl (Otus rutilus), Land Leeches (disambiguation) and arboreal ants.
We ended our day rafting the river. Again, not everyone was forthcoming about their true rafting prowess – or better yet, their lack thereof! Half way down, one of the guides ‘removed’ an oarsman and took over. I’m sure you could hear the cackling laughter for miles.
Toni Bruner, Education Manager
Cook Museum of Natural Science
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