Portfolio: 10 amazing wildlife species to spot in Madagascar
Madagascar is well known for its biodiversity. Of about 200,000 known species on the island, about 150,000 are endemic. It harbours all of the world’s wild lemur population, half of its chameleon varieties and 6% of its frogs.
Madagascar is well known for its biodiversity. Of about 200,000 known species on the island, about 150,000 are endemic. It harbours all of the world’s wild lemur population, half of its chameleon varieties and 6% of its frogs. We know the best local guides who will share their passion for and knowledge of the weird and wonderful wildlife that resides here. Below, we have compiled a collection of photographs of 10 incredible animals you should strive to tick off your checklist:
At 6-9.5kg, an indri is the largest of the lemur species. Like all lemurs, it is endemic to Madagascar. Indris can only survive in protected areas away from human disturbances, such as logging and agriculture, so their presence is restricted to the montane and coastal rainforests of the east, namely the Anjanaharibe-Sud Reserve. They rely on trees to get from place to place and can leap up to 10m between branches. They communicate using long calls, which are audible up to 2km away. This haunting, whale-like ‘song’ can last for several minutes and is ‘sung’ in a group chorus. Sadly, this diurnal herbivore is critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, threatened by habitat loss and hunting.
It may seem hard to believe, but the aye-aye is a primate, so related to chimpanzees and humans. This odd-looking creature is the only lemur to practise echolocation to find food, using its long, slender fingers to tap trees. They have bushy tails that are longer than their bodies, as well as huge eyes and large ears. Aye-ayes are nocturnal and sleep all day in a spherical nest built with leaves and branches. Another Madagascar endemic, this very rare animal is the focus of much superstition on the island, as it is seen as an omen of bad luck. Unfortunately, this means that they are endangered, often falling victim to hunting.
Weighing up to 750g, the Parson’s chameleon is the biggest of its kind on the island. Endemic to Madagascar, this impressive reptile’s feet and tail are perfectly formed for climbing and gripping branches. It inhabits the last remnants of the island’s rainforest – along the east coast and in the southern highlands, although it is now adapting for survival in coffee plantations too. Like many species here, this chameleon is bizarre in many ways: its strangeness begins before it is even born, with its egg lying in the ground for a good year and a half before the baby hatches – an exceptionally long time. When it is fully grown, its long, sticky tongue can reach an awe-inspiring one metre to snatch its prey. Also struggling with dwindling habitats, this creature is listed by the IUCN as near threatened.
Between June and September, huge groups of humpback whales gather off the eastern shore of Madagascar, near Ãle Sainte-Marie. They have migrated from the Antarctic to the warm, calm waters here, where they breed, nurse their calves and engage in their astonishing courtship rituals. They are a whopping 14m to 19m long and are known for their mystical song, which they use to communicate with other whales and attract mates. They feed on tiny krill, fish and plankton. Interestingly, scientists are unsure whether these gentle giants beach to wash away pests or for fun, but either way, their behaviour is spectacular to watch.
Ring-tailed lemurs are what most people imagine when you think of a lemur. Living in troops of six to 30 animals, they are distinctive because of their long, striped, black-and-white tails. Babies stay with their mother for four to six months, when the males will migrate to other groups leaving the females behind. Unusually, ring-tailed lemurs spend a lot of their time on the ground since they cannot grip with their tails as many of their cousins do. This makes them easier for wildlife enthusiasts to spot. Also endemic to Madagascar, one of the best places to see them is in Parc National de l’Isalo in the west. Their favourite snacks are fruit, leaves, flowers and sap.
Green sea turtles can be spotted in the tranquil Indian Ocean waters of the Nosy Tanikely Marine Reserve, off the south coast of Madagascar. These exquisite marine creatures are easily recognised by their smooth, almost heart-shaped shell, which – contrary to what their name suggests – is a blend of colours, including brown, olive, grey and black. They swim serenely through the water, using their flipper-like limbs to glide along, dipping down over the beautiful coral reef. Incredibly, every time a female breeds, she will migrate to the beach where she was born, however far away that might be.
The Verreaux’s sifaka , another Madagascar endemic, is found in the forest and shrubland of the south, such as Berenty Nature Reserve. This endangered, medium-sized lemur is a social primate, living in hierarchical groups of two to 13 individuals. They are diurnal and generally sleep in the canopy from dusk until dawn. Their long tails make them much better adapted to leaping between branches in the treetops, but they are better known for their unique ‘dancing’ movement on the ground, when they bound along and throwing their arms in the air rhythmically to increase their balance. Their favourite food is leaves.
The fosa , the largest wild carnivore in Madagascar, is found nowhere else on earth. This mysterious, cat-like mammal, with its short red-brown fur and a tail as long as its agile, muscular body, can grow to 6ft long from nose to tail tip. It resides in forest areas and has semi-retractile claws that allow it to climb and leap from tree to tree like a monkey or lemur. Although they are active in both the day and night, fosas are notoriously difficult to spot. However, one of the best places to find them is in Masoala National Park.
The Satanic leaf-tailed gecko , another Madagascan endemic, is, without a doubt, one of the most weird and wonderful geckos in existence. Able to blend seamlessly with the surrounding foliage, with its tail ingeniously mimicking a rotting leaf, it has fascinated many visitors to this extraordinary wildlife destination. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are very difficult to spot, particularly during the day when they cover themselves with their leaf-like tails and stick their legs out to resemble twigs. However, it is easier to see them at night when they come out to hunt in the rainforest.
The lowland streaked tenrec is as adorable as it is peculiar. Endemic to northern and eastern Madagascar, where they reside mainly in lowland forests and scrubland, these whacky insectivores are a rather amusing cross between a shrew and a hedgehog. Their long, black noses help them catch earthworms and insects, and their bright-yellow spine crests above their heads are self-defence against predators. These diurnal creatures are the most sociable of the tenrecs, often foraging in small groups.