Why Madagascar's Is Paradise for Wild Animal Junkies

I love the very idea of Madagascar, Wild animals plus adventures in remote lands is my favorite thing. Ring-tailed lemurs? Elaborate reptiles? I'm there. Please enjoy this trip to the eighth continent by Giovanna Fasanelli for Apex Expeditions:

It is so hard to describe to people who have never set foot on ‘The Eighth Continent’ what they are in for on a Madagascar Safari. But if you are an animal junkie, and have watched Attenborough’s documentary series entitled Madagascar, you may just have an inkling of what’s in store.

Some 90 million years ago, the piece of the Gondwana puzzle known today as India broke loose from the east coast of Madagascar, leaving the world’s fourth largest island lying in splendid isolation. Soon enough, animals began to arrive, either by air, swimming, or by rafting the distance on platforms of vegetation washed out from continental neighbors. The stage was set for one of the greatest radiations of life this planet has ever seen, millennia of evolution yielding over 12,000 species of flowering plants, around half of the world’s chameleons and a spectacular number of amphibians. Even more impressive, perhaps, are Madagascar’s lemurs, its tally of over 100 species placing it second only to Brazil in overall primate diversity. Add to these numbers the fact that over three quarters of every plant or animal species one encounters is found nowhere else on Earth, and one has a wildlife lover’s wonderland, every day being a treasure trove of the most enthralling proportions.

As one of the most threatened biodiversity hotspots on the planet, this is a destination to prioritize… YESTERDAY! It is changing at a disconcerting rate and forest reserves and national parks take each day as they come under an ever-changing government or lack thereof. People are breeding fast and people are starving. The animals and plants living in some areas are protected by local fady or taboos, but those in other areas are not. Due to massive deforestation, native wildlife is now restricted to pockets of indigenous vegetation, less than 5% of which still stands, making these relic populations all the more precious. There can be no more important destination for the discerning eco-traveller, and no more valuable a place to spend eco-dollars in support of conservation. There’s no doubt you will come away from visiting this country with bitter-sweet feelings for you will have touched the immense diversity and the extraordinary uniqueness of this evolutionary laboratory, and felt too, the desperation of its story.

Madagascar Safari with Apex Expeditions from Apex Expeditions on Vimeo.

In the areas that have been set aside, treasures, of the creature variety, are waiting behind every leaf… you just have to know where to look! Here are a few of my absolute scream-out-loud favourite creatures of Madagascar, which is a tough ask as there are literally dozens!

My first one is none other than the Ring-tailed Lemur. Ok, so no originality awards for me, but I have to nominate them as they truly are ineffably lovable. I haven’t known a traveller yet who hasn’t fallen head over heels! One afternoon at Berenty Reserve I was on my belly photographing a family group as they were nonchalantly walking past me when I felt a light touch on my back. A Ring-tailed had come up and just placed his little hand on me as if to say a very casual “Hey… what cha doin?”. I instantly melted into the ground… whilst he waddled off. It’s those moments that one never forgets.

The Painted Mantella Frog (Mantella madagascariensis) is another stunner resembling the poison arrow frogs of South America. Their skin secretes toxins and the bright colours warn predators to stay away. Talk about convergent evolution! The local guides know just where to find these beauties after which a brief photo shoot ensues! There are some 170 species of frogs on the island with new additions being found all the time.

It is no secret that a Madagascar expedition reveals some of the world’s most elaborate reptiles: a herpetologist’s veritable wonderland. The night walks/treasure hunts along the road at Ranomafana are the most fun you’ll have! The local guides really show off their spotting skills as they pull out all kinds of creatures for the trip list. When our guide found this creature I actually did let out a scream as it was a dream of mine to see one in the wild. May I introduce to you Uroplatus phantasticus – the Fantastic Leaf-tailed Gecko. Appearing like nothing other than a dried up dead leaf fallen over a low-slung branch, this creature lit up under camera flash exposing satanic red eyes. I wonder how many people had walked right past this rarely-seen, stealthy beast and been none the wiser.

For the finale I offer the apex predator of Madagascar: the Fosa (pronounced foosa or foosh). In late October to early November these powerful carnivores can be seen mating in the trees of the hot western forests. I would need 2000 more words to tell you about this captivating creature and how exhilarating it was to witness the spectacle. This odd weasel/panther-like beast measures two metres in length of which half is tail used for balancing in the trees as it runs down lemurs.

Discover the incredible magic this island holds soon… you will undoubtedly be bedazzled.

About the Author: 
Giovanna Fasanelli is one of the Co-Founders and Field Leaders for Apex Expeditions, which specializes in biologically and culturally unique travel experiences that explore the world’s most fascinating places—from Madagascar safaris to Brazil Amazon tours and Raja Ampat diving adventures. Their expeditions are inspired by a passion for true exploration and a desire to better understand our ever-changing and increasingly threatened planet. Each year, the selection of expeditions offered changes, providing unique year-to-year travel experiences.

Photos:  Giovanna Fasanelli