After a great visit to Ranomafana National Park and Mount Vatovavy, it was time to leave the rain forest for good. The rest of my trip would take me from the east to the west across the high plateau and to the spiny forest. My next major stop would be to climb Pic Boby in the Andringitra Mountains. However, before that I decided on an overnight in Ambalavao to set up the three-day trek and to tour the Anja Reserve to see my first Ring-tail Lemurs in habitat.
The drive from the rainforest of Ranomafana National Park to the town of Ambalavao provided some great insight into the lives of the Malagasy people. For anyone that has traveled through Madagascar, you can’t miss these rudimentary carts that people use to transport heavy items. The long stick in front controls the direction and a piece of wood that, when pulled, rubs against a back wheel acts as the brake.
This cute little girl was helping her parents sell fuel for cooking. There is no gas for cooking in most of Madagascar, so the only way to heat food is under a flame from wood or charcoal.
No machines here. These women worked under the hot sun smashing rocks into smaller pieces that would be used as gravel.
Clay brick-making area.
This family just bought some bricks and they are making their way back home using one of those carts I showed in my first picture.
As we approached the town of Ambalavao we would see these stone columns out in the landscape or next to the road. My guide told me that sometimes when someone dies that the family is unable to get the body back to the family tomb for various reasons. So as an alternative they erect these memorial stone columns. I guess it is somewhat like the Malagasy version of a headstone.
Ambalavao has their Pousse-Pousse runners, like those previously seen in Antsirabe.
These motorized rickshaws called Tuk-Tuks are becoming more popular and are slowly replacing the Pousse-Pousse in many cities.
After a quick check-in at my hotel in Ambalavao, I was off to visit the Anja Community Reserve. The Anja Reserve was created in 2001 with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At 74 acres, the reserve is small compared to most in Madagascar. However, it is a very valuable property in terms of conservation and education.
The entrance had a display of a great Malagasy aloe called Aloe divaricata. Sadly, these Aloe divaricata would be the only ones I would see here.
I was warned prior from multiple fellow travelers I met along the way that the Anja Reserve was too touristy for them and that it had the feel of a zoo. But as a plant guy, it gave me a great opportunity to see some plants I wouldn’t see anywhere else. So I had to make the stop. The Anja Reserve is actually the most visited community-managed forest and ecotourist site in Madagascar. The never-ending train of tour buses easily makes that believable.
My trek through the Anja Reserve would turn out to be unlike any other I would do through Madagascar. 4.1 miles of spaghetti city.
The reason for the crazy route was two fold. 1) My guide knew I was a plant guy so he ran me off the main circuit throughout the entire hike to show me some amazing flora. 2) The landscape was made up of mostly fallen rocks and huge boulders at the base of the hills. Scattered around the base of the hills are the pockets of forest.
The 4,700-foot high Iandrambaky Massif dominates the landscape at the Anja Reserve.
The Anja Reserve is most famous for its Ring-tailed Lemurs (Lemur cotta). There are around 300 living in the reserve and they are the reason most people visit. The reality is that it is almost too easy to view these guys at the Anja Reserve. In years past, visitors even fed the Ring-tails. Thankfully, that can no longer be done. The effects are still easily noticeable, as most of the Ring-tailed Lemur families are not the least bit afraid of humans.
Ring-tailed Lemurs are the most iconic lemur species in Madagascar. So you would really be missing out if you passed on the chance to see them. Currently, Ring-tailed lemurs are endangered due to the deforestation of the dry forests they mostly inhabit. Places like the Anja Reserve are key for their long-term survival in the wild.
It can get extremely hot at the Anja Reserve. These two lemurs were cooling off by resting on a large rock.
Lemurs weren’t the only animals out during that hot day. This Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) is one of the larger Chameleon species in Madagascar. I never would have noticed him in the tree in front of me if it hadn’t been for the keen eye of my guide.
Not much farther away I happened upon this Jeweled Chameleon (Furcifer lateralis). This was a species I had seen before during my trek through the forest at Antoetra.
The Grandidier’s Madagascar Swift (Oplurus grandidieri) are much easier to find. They could be seen scampering on almost every rock in the reserve.
Let’s get to the plants. Behind palms, aloes were the Malagasy plant I wanted to see in habitat the most. This aloe below is an undescribed species right now and was very rare in the reserve. This is Aloe aff. prostrata-sakarahensis. I only saw three, but all three were found growing on the side of rocks in mostly leaf-litter.
Once you reach the other side of the reserve, in the more open grassy areas you will find Aloe macroclada. These can get pretty big, and since it was the end of the dry season, the colors were spectacular on these aloes.
Aloe deltoideodonta var. fallax was abundantly growing right along the fringes of rock and earth.
Euphorbias are abundant in the reserve. This is Euphorbia alluaudi.
Euphorbia alluaudi can grow most anywhere.
This could be one of a few species and I couldn’t key it out, so for now it will just have to be an unknown Euphorbia.
Same with this Euphorbia. It is closely allied to Euphorbia milii, but I believe it is a different species.
Best guess for me on these is Pachypodium rosulatum.
Kalanchoe orgyalis. The new leaves have a rust color to them which makes it a popular species to grow in cultivation.
Another popular Malagasy Kalanchoe in cultivation is Kalanchoe beharensis (Felt Bush). All the ones in the reserve were old and leggy like this.
Sobennikoffia humbertiana orchid.
It took me a while to ID this plant when trekking. It wasn’t even a Malagasy plant. It was a naturalized and invasive plant from the Americas – Opuntia.
There are a few caves found in the Anja Reserve. This one is used by Lemurs at night to hide from predators like the Madagascar Harrier-Hawk.
This was one of a few Betsileo tombs found in the reserve. Family tombs like this prove origin on that land for that particular family.
The view looking back at the reserve entrance.
Thanks to the late start I got in the Anja Reserve, I ended up hiking in the afternoon. It was hot and the heat was getting to me so I decided to head back to the hotel and call it a day. I needed to catch up online anyway, as the hotel promised fast WiFi. My guide told me I would be able to explore the hill across from the Anja Reserve and still make it to the first camp in the Andringitra Mountains if I got an early start the following morning.
The next morning at 5:45 AM we went up the hill. The reason for the climb was to look at an “unknown” aloe species and to see some other plants not found at the Anja Reserve just across the street.
There are no trails up the hill so you just zig-zag your way up.
Once at the top, the view was fantastic. We were about 1,000 feet above the Anja Reserve shown below.
There were a lot of different plants all growing together at the top. As an example, in the picture below you have 1 aloe species, 1 xerophyte, 3 euphorbia species and even 1 orchid species.
Aloe capitata could be found growing up here. You can see representatives in the two prior photos. I am pretty sure these are the “Quartziticola” variety.
The aloe that was thought to be an unknown by my guide turned out to be an Aloe haworthioides. Coincidently, I actually believed this to be a Haworthia at first because I didn’t think this species was found in this area. However, I later confirmed it was indeed Aloe haworthioides. When not in flower, finding these guys proved difficult. We were on our hands and knees pulling away the dead grass to find them. This species is the chameleon of the aloe world.
Aloe deltoideodonta var. fallax had more color on the hill compared to the ones I showed earlier in Anja.
There were some really nice specimen Pachypodium rosulatum at the summit.
The Walking Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe synsepala) were exceptionally colorful up there.
The darker form of Kalanchoe tomentosa.
Xerophyta sp. Some were old and weathered.
Ischnolepis graminifolia was in flower.
I was also fortunate to see two well known Malagasy insects on top the hill. The first was the beautiful Rainbow Milkweed Locust (Phymateus saxosus). Bright colors in the animal world are usually a warning. In this case it says “don’t eat me – I’m toxic.” The toxicity comes from the milkweed they eat.
The next was the famous Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentous). I couldn’t get this guy to hiss for me though.
As I made my way back down the hill I took another look back just as the sun was rising from behind the hills of the Anja Reserve. The hill came to life in color at sunrise.
Part of the color comes from all the lichens found growing on the rocks.
Once back at the car, a bunch of children had run from their houses to see who had just came down the hill and to ask for candy. The waves of goodbye seemed a fitting end to my time at Anja Reserve and Ambalavao. However, my day was just getting started, as I had a three-hour drive and six-mile trek up 2,000 feet of elevation gain still ahead of me in the Andringitra Mountains.