It only took one day in the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, before I was antsy and wanting to get away from the traffic and crowds. I was ready to start my month-long adventure of living off the beaten track. My first stop of the ten key areas of Madagascar I planned to visit was to Andasibe and its surrounding national parks and private reserves. The main attraction for tourists is of course Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The average annual precipitation of 67 inches, which falls 210 days a year, makes Andasibe-Mantadia National Park a rainforest. Rainforest means palm trees, and the areas around Andasibe had some amazing gems to go with the lemurs, birds, reptiles, amphibians and countless plant species. Thanks to this incredible abundance of unique plants and fauna (much found nowhere outside the park), Andasibe-Mantadia National Park became a World Heritage Site in 2007. What a great way to start off a trip.
My adventure commenced with an early 5 AM start time from my Antananarivo hotel to begin the 95-mile drive to Andasibe. Ninety-five miles in Madagascar means a 3-hour drive due to poor roads and other things that slow you down. Like old Renault 4’s that can’t seem to get above 20 kph or the famous Taxi Brousse that own the road with their over-crowded swagger.
A road block from a broken down truck gives you time to buy your meat from the local butcher shop.
Needless to say, an advertised 3-hour drive took five. But I was partially to blame. I had my driver stop a few times along the way to get some palm photographs. Like the first time I saw Raphia farinifera in the wild. Raphia farinifera is a truly massive palm and has very colorful petioles to go along with its size. The genus Raphia can actually boast to having the longest leaf in the plant kingdom.
You can’t miss the fact you have reached your destination. It’s the Andasibe version of the Las Vegas Strip.
Analamazaotra Special Reserve
The reason for my 5 AM start time from Antananarivo was that my driver/guide had booked my first jungle trek for 9 AM at the Analamazaotra Reserve.
The Analamazaotra Reserve is easily the most accessible rainforest reserve in Madagascar. Toss in the fact that one of the most iconic animals of Madagascar is found here, and it is no wonder this is a very touristy location. It was the only place I had to book my hotel in advance during my entire trip.
The Analamazaotra Reserve used to be part of the Mantadia National Park, but private logging and slash-and-burn agricultural have since sadly divided the two. However, what is still left is beautiful and needs greater protections from deforestation.
The first palms you see in the Analamazaotra Reserve are Ravenea robustior. It is easily the most abundant large palm in the reserve.
Juveniles can be found everywhere on the forest floor. Grown in deep shade, their leaves can reach upwards of 25 feet into the forest canopy.
The king of all the palms in the Analamazaotra Reserve was this colossal Ravenea robustior. This palm had to be a minimum of 100 years old.
A rather confusing palm is the one photographed below. It is large like Ravenea robustior, but has much wider leaflet’s. The leaflet’s are so wide in fact, that they overlap, making it quite an attractive palm. This palm below just might prove to be Ravenea latisecta, a plant scientist are still trying to determine if it is a valid species or not. From what I saw, it is different looking from Ravenea robustior and Ravenea madagascariensis.
Dypsis pilulifera is a beautiful palm that could be found growing through the many reserves around Andasibe.
This is an unknown Dypsis with regular leaflets and colorful petioles. I only saw a palm with this appearance one other time on my travels. For palm collectors in California, this palm strongly resembles a plant that was being sold as “Dypsis malcomberi” by JD Andersen Nursery here in Fallbrook. While that palm is certainly not Dypsis malcomberi, it seems closely related to Dypsis ‘Orange Crush’—which is another palm found growing around Andasibe. This just might turn out to be a colorful variant.
Analamazaotra Reserve has quite a few of the smaller, understory-type Dypsis growing. The ‘prettiest’ of the group was Dypsis concinna. It could be found solitary or clumping. There was even an entire-leaf form I saw in the Vohimana Reserve.
Dypsis nodifera was the most common palm found in Madagascar. I saw it growing in every rainforest reserve I visited, from as far north as Sainte Marie Island all the way down to Mount Vatovavy.
Dypsis nodifera seedling. A common sight in the Analamazaotra Reserve.
Red emerging leaf of Dypsis hildebrandtii.
Dypsis jumelleana was another common palm in Analamazaotra Reserve. It wasn’t all that attractive of a palm to me.
The main reason people visit the Analamazaotra Reserve is for a chance to see its famous resident—the Indri Lemur (Indri indri). The Indri Lemur is the largest of all lemurs and can approach 3 feet tall. Its black and white markings with no tail make it easily recognizable. But perhaps it is most famous for its call. Some have compared it to whale songs and it can be heard more than 2 miles away in the jungle. I used to think the Howler Monkey had the most impressive call of the primates.
My first encounter. This guy heard and saw me coming long before I saw him.
I was able to enjoy a close visitation with these Indri Lemurs for about 10 minutes before I was swarmed by hordes of French tourists that eventually chased them up into the canopy. I will never forget those peaceful 10 minutes in admiration of such a magnificent animal that is extremely endangered.
There are a total of 11 lemur species scattered throughout the various reserves around Andasibe. Six are diurnal, the other 5 nocturnal. I was lucky enough to see a nocturnal species which also happens to be one of the only lemur species that is monogamous and mates for life. This Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger) family didn’t stick around for long, but I was able to get a few photos. Shooting lemurs with my 18-55 mm travel lens was not easy.
This Madagascar Ground Boa was just resting next to a bridge.
Polybothris Jewel Beetle with puppy-dog eyes.
Throughout the forest you can find termite mounds. I wanted to see what one looked like inside so I kicked off the protective layer. It was impressively elaborate.
The Mitsinjo Reserve was the next visit. There are only a few short trekking circuits to chose from there, but it is worth a visit. The Reserve is managed by Association Mitsinjo, which was formed in 1999 by the residents of Andasibe village. Their activities have an effect on more than 400 households in the Andasibe area and it is your entry fees that help support this.
The main reason I wanted to visit here was due to the fact it is the only place in the world where you can see Ravenea louvelii in habitat. Ravenea louvelii is an extremely endangered palm and found on the ICUN Red List. Prior to Association Mitsinjo’s involvement, Ravenea louvelii was in an unprotected location and would most likely be extinct had the area not been made into a protected reserve.
Ravenea louvelii is a unique, litter-trapping palm. It is a palm which I grow in my Southern Californian garden, but I was curious as to whether or not it was correctly labeled. Now having seen it in habitat, I am confident that what I grow as Ravenea louvelii, unfortunately, is not this palm.
This Dypsis pilulifera just lost a leaf base and was showing off the brilliant orange coloring they can have. The orange slowly fades to green over time.
The palm shown below is most likely Dypsis ‘Orange Crush.’ At least that is what most believe who have seen it. However, I am not so convinced. I believe this is some unknown Dypsis, as it just doesn’t match what we see growing in cultivation as Dypsis ‘Orange Crush.’
Dypsis pinnatifrons growing in full sun.
The Mitsinjo Reserve gave me an opportunity to find a few other incredible animals. This is a full grown Nose-horned Chameleon (Calumma nasuta). Finding this guy camouflaged in the leaf-litter was sheer luck.
The Giraffe Weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa) is an insect everyone looks for on their treks through the reserves. The Giraffe Weevil is sexually dimorphic, with the male’s neck being three times longer than the female’s. The male’s neck is used for fighting rival males. Amazingly enough, this insect had only recently been discovered in 2008. I found this male below on a Giraffe Beetle Tree (Dichaetanthera arbor), where Trachelophorus giraffe spends most of its life.
A brightly colored unknown Assassin Bug.
The Lined Day Gecko (Phelsuma lineata) can be found throughout the rainforest of Madagascar. I have a feeling this lizard could do quite well in a warm microclimate in Southern California.
I used my Strava app on my iPhone to log all my treks in Madagascar. For my first day, Strava said I walked 5.9 miles. Not a bad way to start. The next day would take me through the Mantadia National Park.