Travel Time – Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. At 226,658 square miles, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world.

Madagascar has a tropical climate with a diverse terrain. There are lagoons hidden amongst the coastal beaches with rivers flowing from the mountains and grasslands and deserts inland. The island’s biodiversity is even more profound than its geography with many species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

Madagascar is known as the world’s largest native habitat of lemurs. Lemurs range in size from the nocturnal pygmy mouse lemur, weighing about an ounce, to the singing indri lemurs and easily recognized sifakas that can weigh 15 pounds, similar to a housecat. The aye-aye, a fascinating, nocturnal lemur has an elongated, claw-like middle finger that it uses to dig insects out of tree bark, and is often feared by the Malagasy people because of its unusual appearance. Most lemurs are arboreal, spending most of their time at the top of the canopy or midlevel. However the ring-tailed lemur spends most of its time on the ground. Lemurs are matriarchal and each group usually has one dominant female who leads and controls the group. She also has first choice of food and mates. Wild lemurs eat fruit, various plants, leaves and insects.

The best time to travel to Madagascar is between April and November during the dry season. Several protected areas and reserves have been set aside so you can easily see the variety and abundance of bird, animal, insect and reptile life. One such site is Perinet Reserve where the local guides are keen conservationists who eagerly seek out the many different birds and animals hidden in the tangle of vines, branches and plant fronds so your tour will be especially memorable. A major international conservation effort is taking place at Montagne D’Amber National Park where the forests are outstanding and lemurs abound.

In the extreme north of Madagascar is the multi-ethnic community of Diego Suarez where Indians, Yeminis, Mauritians, Comoros and Malagasy live and work together in peace. Diego Suarez is dominated by a huge natural harbour where seafood is abundant, brought in daily by fishers in wooden dhows, very reasonably priced and quite delectable.

The small island of Nosy Be is the most popular site in Madagascar with beautiful white sand beaches and a pleasing climate. Many people also take local outrigger canoes called pirogues to nearby reefs to take in the underwater scenery. Mount Possod is the highest point where an enjoyable hike is rewarded by a panoramic view of the island; other islands and sacred lakes are absorbed into the psyche for future reference. Nosy Komba is the home of Black lemurs. They are everywhere and very curious. If you bring bananas and offer them up you may find a Black lemur sitting on your shoulder happily munching away.

Approximately 14 million people live in Madagascar and the surrounding Comoro Islands. The average person earns $200 USD per year and many eke out a subsistence living by logging the rainforest to cultivate crops. Unfortunately, 80% of the forests have been destroyed and the natural ecosystems are strained. People just getting by day to day often don’t think about the environment and the long term need to protect their resources for the future. However, ecotourism is bringing much needed money and awareness to the Malagasy people. They are embracing the knowledge that visitors coming to their country to see the flora and fauna, especially lemurs, provide more economic riches than by devastating the forests that are needed to sustain their glorious wildlife.

TerryLynn Saunders lives in Nanaimo enjoys traveling.