The yearly festival of whales on the little island Ste Marie, off the east coast of Madagascar took place from the 4th to the 7th of July.

Every year the humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic to the warm waters of the Bay of Antongil in the North East of Madagascar to give birth and to mate. From the end of June till the beginning of September they return with their new-born calves to the Antarctic. The whales are sacred for the inhabitants of Ile Ste Marie. Still, tourists are welcome to their festivities and special whale spotting tours are organised. Strict rules are obeyed as not to disturb the animals.

 

 

The Madagascar pochard – arguably the world’s rarest bird – has bred successfully in captivity building hope that it can be saved from extinction.

kuikentje

Eighteen precious pochard ducklings are being reared at a specially built centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar, opened last year by Dr Lee Durrell. The birth of the ducklings is a key milestone in the conservation of the species, including an emergency expedition two years ago to take eggs into captivity. It is the ducks from those eggs that have now bred for the first time.

The pochard breeding programme is part of a joint project to save the bird by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Government of Madagascar.

Dr Glyn Young, a conservation biologist with Durrell, has spent much of his life studying the Madagascar pochard. He said: “The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction. Seven years ago, people thought this bird was already extinct and yet the discovery of one small population and now the arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again.”

The pochard was believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2006 on a single small lake, Lake Matsaborimena (or Red Lake), in northern Madagascar. Numbering just 22 birds, the ducks remain extremely vulnerable to extinction from a single event such as pollution or a disease outbreak.

In order to restore the species to suitable wetlands within its former range across the high plateau region of Madagascar, scientists are studying the remaining wild population to understand the reasons behind the species’ decline and to determine the right conditions for releasing birds. Particularly worrying is that the wild birds appear to have very low breeding success.

Peter Cranswick, Head of Species Recovery at WWT said: “Although Lake Matsaborimena is the last hiding place for the ducks, it is far from ideal as a habitat. Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food and this may be leading to the low survival of the ducklings; in effect, they are starving to death.

“We have identified some lakes where the physical conditions are potentially right for the pochard, but success will depend on support of the local community. Fishing is thought to be one factor that led to the pochard’s decline but many rural Malagasy people earn their livelihood from fishing. The challenge is to find a solution that helps both the people and the birds.”

In addition to the breeding centre where the ducklings are being reared, a major facility will be developed this year where young birds will be trained prior to release into the wild. Malagasy conservationists are learning the skills needed to breed and rear pochards.

Source: Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (also the source of our featured image).

The true Darwin island

A month of diversity spent in just a small part of a majestic country leaves me thinking how many wondrous things are left to see in this part of the world. An impression of our holiday can be read in the following excerpts.

Primary rainforests with lemurs, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, frogs, gekko’s and chameleons in all sorts and sizes. Not to mention medicinal plants, pandanuce, palmtrees, rose wood and palissander.

The Canal des Pangalanes with its awe-inspiring lakes, white sandy beaches and fishing villages and all this is just a stone’s throw away from the relentless crashing and beating of the Indian ocean. Watching the fishermen braving the waves in small pirogues at first dawn is something I’ll never forget.

The humpback whales, just of the Isle Sainte Marie, did justice to their reputation by jumping from the water, splashing their fins and tales and performing an occasional spy hop.

Exceptional ‘off the beaten track’ days with the people from Fetraomby and the surrounding villages of Andranaotra, Lanonana and Razanaka. Trekking through primary rainforest whilst seeing various kinds of truly wild lemurs, wading through rivers and rice paddies whilst eating bananas and anon fruit straight from the tree. Meeting people living a simple but happy life surrounded by nature and the ones they love.

Many thanks to George and Marcia, from Centre Lambahoany in Tamatave, for putting us in to contact with the lovely and kind people of Madagascar. I hope they will continue this important work for many years to come so the Malagasy people can profit from tourism without losing their culture and biodiversity.

 

Photo: Canal des Pangalanes, Wikipedia

 

 

Recently we discovered a chameleon laying eggs in our garden. We have never seen this before, so we quickly got our camera and made a little video.

Of course we will keep you updated as soon as the eggs are being hatched.

 

 

A new touristic site, a historic cave and the summit of the hill where once a king resided are now open to the public. It takes some stamina to arrive, but the stayers are rewarded! The cave is high upon the hill near the hamlet Marovato in the Eastern Rainforest of Madagascar. Marovato is only accessible on foot, an eight kilometre walk from Gismay, where the boat from Brickaville moors. The cave is a little more uphill. Here, in times of unrest people would hide. The last time was during the 1947 insurrection against the colonial rule. Since then, the cave was filled up with dirt. But the villagers did a good job to improve the path that leads to the cave and cleaned out the cave itself, which is much deeper than they ever expected. A small puddle has formed in the middle, much to the delight of the Indri-indri that live in the surrounding forest. They use it as a watering place. The indri-indri, a black and white lemur, is a sacred animal for the local people and therefore it is not very shy. Thus there is a reasonable chance to spot them.

BeratyCave

The path to the cave continues to the summit where one has a splendid view of the surroundings. Once, a king lived upon this summit where he was protected against his enemies. The grandson of the last king is now the tangalamena (warden of traditions) of Marovato.

More information about Marovato, the cave and the king can be found in a brochure that shortly will be available as a download from this site. Also, a new trek including a visit of this new touristic site will be put together by the local organisation, Rianala, and Centre Lambahoany and published on this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured image (top): Brickaville

We have visited Fetraomby last spring and we must say it is very impressive.

Travel Impression

First we were taken by our guide to Brickaville to take some meat from the market for the next day and then into the boat with the locals. After some hours we arrived in Anivorano where a lady provided us with lunch in her house. After another boat trip we got off in Gisimay, from where we walked to Sahamamy. Unfortunately the host family had just lost their son, so their was no music, but the family was very open minded to share about their customs. We had a great meal and the next day they showed us the old graphite mine and factory. You would have wondered how they ever got these machines here, since there are only trails to this village.

After that we were going to find the Indri indri, which we did on a mountain top which gave a great view over the area. A steep climb over the mountain followed to get to Marovato for our next stay.

The children here gave us a good performance and the whole village came out to greet us. Like the locals do, we decided to take a bath in the small river just outside the village.

The following days we visited Fetraomby and had a little party here, with some music and dancing. We visited some pierre bizarres and learned about their importance for the villagers. We went to the waterfall and had a pick nick here. Also we were told how people make charcoal and protect their food from pest.

It was a lot of walking, but worth it. In one village we were the second white people ever visited, so that was very special. Also seeing that people really like to welcome you and secondary school children wanting to practise their English with a real ‘outsider’ is very special.

We can only say, that if you visit Madagascar, you definitely get a more special experience here than at other, more frequently visited, tourist areas

 

 

Fetraomby celebrated World Tourism Day. It was at the same time an opportunity to inform the world about the beginning of several new projects in the vicinity. All projects have the same aim: nature conservation and community development, in this still rich but already endangered part of the rainforests of East Madagascar.

Our partner organization RIANALA did a great job. Extra boats had been organized to transport authorities and tourists to Fetraomby. All tourist accommodations were, as always, in top shape. So was the village: the celebration started with the proclamation of the winner of the match ‘cleaning the village’. A boat race and a sack race were the next items on the programme, followed by a football match, which was won by the Fetraomby team!

As soon as it was dark enough, around 6 p.m., several instructive documentaries about the environment were projected on a big screen. Despite the drizzle the entire villages and all visitors from neighbouring villages were captivated. Television is already a rarity in these parts, let alone a big screen. The Friday evening was rounded off with a disco for the young. It lasted until the early hours of Saturday morning.

Folkloristische Dans

Saturday commenced with a more serious part of the programme: saluting the flag, singing the national hymn. Then M. Etienne, chairperson of Rianala welcomed the district manager, the district had of the gendarmerie, the mayor, and the representatives of the organisations contributing to the nature conservation and community development projects. The speeches by the authorities alternated with folkloristic dances, a match in eloquence (kabary) and poetry, a little boy demonstrating his ability in back flips and another little boy mimicking several birds, much to the amusement of the public. Especially the cock was a great success.

After giving out the prices to the winners, lunch was ready. Unfortunately authorities and tourists had to eat from plates, others used ravinala (traveller palm leaves) both as plate and as spoon.

The afternoon was dedicated to a visit of the pierre bizarre, a sacred place, only to be visited after a ceremony for the ancestors, and once again the young were treated on a disco.

Rianala wants to thank all sponsors who made this happening possible, first and foremost Ambatovy, but also Aspinall, Conservation International and Centre Lambahoany.

Rainforests of Atsinanana, East-Madagascar on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Last July the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed the rainforests of Antsinanana on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Their reason to do so is: “…because of illegal logging and hunting of endangered lemurs on the site. The Committee noted that despite a decree outlawing the exploitation and export of rosewood and ebony, Madagascar continues to provide export permits for illegally logged timber. It also noted that countries that had ratified the World Heritage Convention are known destinations for this timber. The Committee urged Madagascar to take all necessary measures to enforce the decree and halt illegal logging activities. It also encouraged the State Party to organise a high level meeting of countries concerned to ensure that illegal timber originating from Madagascar is both banned and prevented from entering their national markets.

Lemurs are depending on the rainforest for survivalHaving completed its separation from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago, Madagascar’s plant and animal life evolved in isolation. The Rainforests of Atsinanana, comprising six national parks on the eastern side of the country, are critically important for maintaining ongoing ecological processes necessary for the survival of the island’s unique biodiversity, which reflects its geological history. Many species are rare and threatened, especially primates and lemurs.”
(source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/639)

Some of our ecotreks include parts of the rainforests of Antsinanana. Our partners in Madagascar do their best to preserve the rainforests and together with other organisations counterbalance this devastating development.

Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands surrounding it, such as Mauritius and the Seychelles, represent a so-called biodiversity hotspot. Only few places in the World have a similarly high diversity in plants and animals. On top of that many of the species found in this hotspot cannot be found anywhere else in the World. For instance, at least 90 percent of Madagascar’s reptiles are found only on Madagascar!

One type of reptile found in all colours and sizes is the smaller sized lizard known as gecko. Anyone who has ever met a gecko knows you cannot miss them. These funny little creatures are constantly calling out to each other by making chirping sounds.

Geckos come in two flavours, the party-all-night-long flavour and the early-riser-afraid-of-the-dark flavour. The nocturnal geckos usually have dull, brownish colours, while the day geckos are known as the ‘jewels of Madagascar’ because of their bright colours. I guess these geckos can’t have it all…

Camouflage Gecko
Camouflage Gecko

Most geckos have specialised scales in their feet with microscopic hooks on them, which allow them to cling to vertical surfaces and hang upside down. This results in geckos not only in your bed but also above it on the ceiling, next to you on the wall… they are literally all over the place.

But there is another funny thing about them: they lick their eyeballs! Once in a while you see their long, flat tongue shoot out of their mouth, land on their eyes and then slither back down into their mouth again… Yes, you heard it right! But they have good reason for this mildly weird behaviour. Their large, round eyes are only protected by single transparent scales, so no eyelids. It seems that these scales, just like the windscreen on your car, need to be cleaned once in a while, hence the licking of the eyeballs…

So, let’s consider the camouflage gecko. The mossy leaf-tailed or fringed gecko (genus Uroplatus) is an absolute master of disguise. At present 11 species are recognised, which differ in size from 6-7 cm up till 30 cm. But no matter how large they get, they are almost impossible to recognize, which the picture above illustrates. Their habitat is mostly rainforests but they are also found in deciduous forests, which lose their leafs in the fall. The larger species, as the one in the picture, tend to mimic tree bark, while the smaller ones look like dry leafs. I guess that’s why they are mostly found in rainforests, looking like a leaf in a leafless forest is not going to save you from the predators…

Information sources used for this text are Madagascar Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide (Garbutt, Bradt and Schuurman, Bradt travel guide, April 2006) and the website http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org.

 

The biodiversity on Madagascar is huge, but so are the amount of threaths for conservation of the species and habitats.

The UN have called out the 22nd of May to be the international day of bioversity and 2010 the international year of biodiversity. Of course we couldn’t let this pass us by unnoticed, especially at the biodiversity hotspot that is Madagascar.

Park Ivoloina therefore organized several activities at their park during a 3 day event. The celebrations of the ‘day of biodiversity’ started at Centre Lambahoany. A day full of activities and events to create awareness on the importance of biodiversity, such as the election of Miss and Mr Biodiversité from at least 400 schoolchildren. B-Sarouk gave a wonderfull performance. After this the celebrations continued with a defilé towards Avenue de l’Independance in the city center of Tamatave.

The following days the celebration continued at Park Ivoloina, a recreational, zoological and educational park, with expositions and explainations on the biodiversity in the region. We have learned about the threatened fish populations  offshore, the diversity of animals which live in the region and special attention for the bees, who are starting to disappear in the region. The latter would be a devastating trend because without the bees the fruits can’t survive, and the litchis is the nr. 1 industry here.

So let’s celebrate and protect the biodiversity of Madagascar!

 

 

 

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