Looking for lemurs – Ranomafana National Park

The landscape and way of life again constantly changed as we headed south to Ranomafana. Like in Tana there is quite a bit of brick making taking place on the outskirts of Antsirabe. Sprinter vans, minivans and cars mingle with Zebu pulling carts, hand carts and bicycles. Bicycles, of the old school gearless style are used as a main form of transport in Madagascar. There are also bicycle rickshaws in the cities but the more common type of rickshaw is human pulled. The same with carts – many are person powered where usually in other countries you’d see some form of engine. Madagascar is easily the most manual (person powered) country we have been to.

The 6 hour drive was mainly on winding roads. Having left at 8am when we stopped for lunch we were glad to have broken the back of it. It was a local restaurant serving only Madagascan dishes, Patrick helped us translate enough of the menu to know that we’d ordered chicken and rice. It was the best meal we’d had and by far the cheapest.

The clouds started to get thicker and darker as we got closer to Ramomafana. Patrick said it might rain and that we’d need our rain jackets. Which would have been fine, if we’d packed them. It became fully apparent as there was a short heavy shower that night that we aren’t really kitted for a rainforest.

We found a hotel with cabins on a hill side. It was actually flat this time.

We’d come to visit the National Park. Guides are compulsory so the hotel called us one while we settled in. We talked through our options and decided with him to do a night walk with him and to leave at 7am the next morning when the park opened to explore it. This left us with a couple of hours to explore the village and to score batteries for our torches.

The night walk takes place on the road by the National Park entrance. We picked up our guide in the village as we went through and he spent the journey up telling us what we were looking for (brown mouse lemur, chameleons and frogs). Everyone goes to the same place so there were quite a few groups but our guide was good at taking us away from them. We started with the frogs and then we found small chameleons (finger sized), we finally saw a brown mouse lemur which moved super fast, a rat and finally some very cool big sleeping chameleons. Very hard to photo but we got some snaps for memories.

The next morning we woke to rain. We had breakfast on the restaurant verandah as it steadily rained. It slowly started to clear down the valley and our hopes lifted. We’d gone for layers in lieu of waterproofs so at least we could stay warm. Once again we picked the guide up on the way through the village.

Ranomafana (which means “hot water” in Malagasy) National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in 1991, following the discovery of the critically endangered Golden Bamboo lemur it covers 41,600 hectares of tropical rainforest. A mountainous terrain it sits at altitudes of 800m to 1200m and contains both primary and secondary forest. It’s wildlife includes 12 types of lemur, as well as a whole host of birds, reptiles (yes including snakes, but also including cool stuff like chameleons) and frogs.

We were the first in the Park for the day. We were surprised to find we were given an animal spotter (everyone was, it was good to know the entry fee was actually generating local employment) their role really was to find lemurs, so they go ahead and look for them deep in bush. It was nice to be the first in, we saw no one else for over an hour and a half. The flip side was lemurs had yet to be found that day. Our guide was working hard, going off the track to check their known hang outs and working to find other things to show us (anyone that knows Marie knows all our guides are told not to tell us if they see a snake, she was happy when he’d told her they are hard to find at this time of year as it was still a bit cold for them). He still shared the spiders with us and the tales of scorpions living in the dried bamboo.

Eventually the guide got a call from our spotter, he’d found 2 golden bamboo lemurs. We were stoked, we watched them eating bamboo leaves for quite some time. The day was starting to warm up so we were hopeful the forest would start to come more alive. Not about to rest on his laurels after we left them our guide was back to exploring off the track.

Another call came and we were off. We came out of the secondary forest and into the primary. There from the track we watched 2 black and white ruffled lemurs (aka the classic lemur you imagine). It was super cool, we watched them for a long time eating breakfast and moving from branch to branch. More and more tourists arrived with their spotters, the word had quickly spread. It was a bit of an adjustment after having the forest to ourselves (so it felt) but there was probably no more than a dozen tourists and the spotters were good at spreading people out.

We hadn’t long left there and our spotter called again this time we were dragged off into the bush to join a bunch of other people half up a hillside. This was a family of Milne-Edwards sifaka, the biggest lemur in Ranomafana. Like the black and white ruffled these are also endangered.

We watched them for a long time, this troop was active and it was an impressive sight watching them jumping from tree to tree. Mum had a baby attached to her that was just a couple of months old, there was dad and then there was last year’s baby.

When we’d finished watching them it was time we headed to the forest viewpoint for a break before heading back to the park entrance. We’d bought baguette sandwiches from the hotel as a picnic lunch on the go so we could hit the road straight away with the long drive ahead.

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