Montagne d’Ambre …

… is about 30 km south of Diego Suarez. Established in 1958 it it covers 185km². The mountain rises from a dry region producing an isolated stretch of montane rainforest covering an area of more than 18,000 hectares  at an altitude between 800 and 1,500 metres. Not surprisingly, it holds a fantastic biodiversity, the scenery is pretty good, too. But take your raincoat.

It is about 45 minutes by 4WD from Diego Suarez and could be done as a day trip, but beware, if you do it that way you will wish you had spent longer.

Here are a few of the stars of the show …

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If you could just imagine me crouching for hour after hour, in the cold damp undergrowth with raindrops intermittently going down my neck, leaches going end over end, out of focus, up my nose in an effort to fasten on my eyeball to get this stunning photograph … so could I. The reality is this bird is an absolute tart, it lives at the picnic ground and starts posing the moment it sees a camera. For the splitters this is the Amber Mountain Rock Thrush Pseudocossyphus erythronotus, a thoroughly unique species in a small obscure genus restricted to one little mountain in Madagascar. To the lumpers this is the Forest Rock Thrush Monticola sharpei, found in forest throughout Madagascar, the local representative of a genus that is widespread through Europe, Africa and Asia.

Chameleons come in various sizes…

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Amber Mountain is home to 8 species of lemur, but for a change here is the ring-tailed mongoose (Galidia elegans) and very elegans it is …

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Nahampoana …

After a few days at Berenty our long-suffering bus took us back to Fort Dauphin. Along the way we were able to see the Triangular Palms endemic to this region and we also spent a little time in another section of spiny forest.

After a night in Fort Dauphin we visited Nahampoana about 10km north. This is essentially a botanical garden in which native wildlife have found a refuge amongst exotic trees.

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It’s a splendid scene and I’ve done my best to disguise the fact that the Verraux’s Sifakas are sitting in eucalypts. The gardens are well maintained and cover about 50 hectares (approximately 125 acres).

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The animals are fairly approachable, above we have a male Collared Brown Lemur and on sentry duty below is a Ring-tailed Lemur.

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We found a few chameleons, their eyes are capable of the independent movement … you get the most pleasing photos when they take the trouble to look back at you.

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The bird list wasn’t huge but included Lesser Vasa Parrot and our first sighting of Madagascar Blue Pigeon. The gardens hold some Radiated Tortoises and some captive Nile Crocodiles.

Madagascar …

I’m leaving today.

I have been to a lot of out of the way places and the most frequent response from friends and co-workers has been “why?” … but that’s not the case with Madagascar. It seems that everyone has their own inner Madagascar, it may not be the first place on their bucket list, but when you mention it, eyes light up. Is it the movies, is it the Lemurs at the zoo or is it some TV documentary?

If you allow Australia the privilege of being an island as well as a continent then Madagascar is the fifth largest of the world’s islands. It’s about 1500 km top to bottom and about 570 km wide at its widest point. It’s about 420 km west of its nearest neighbour, Mozambique. The central highlands range from about 750 to 1500 metres. The east coast gets the rain, the west and south coastal regions are dry.

Madagascar was part of Gondwana and although it is now close to Africa it parted from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. It kept company with India until about 88 million years ago. Its prolonged isolation has given it a very special evolutionary history. If friends and co-workers had said “why?’ instead of “ooh” this would have been my answer – to see the wildlife.

The population is a little over 22 million and on average they survive on about $450 a year.

Human settlement first came from the east some time between 350 BC and 550 AD, making Madagascar one of the last substantial land masses to receive the benefit of people. The founding population is estimated to have been around 60 to 200 individuals based on genetics. They likely arrived by outrigger canoe from Borneo. Subsequent settlement was mainly from subsaharan Africa.

Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemurs (a type of prosimian primate), the carnivorous fossa and many birds. According to Avibase there are 300 species of bird and 108 are endemic. The chameleons are another highlight, the island is home to two-thirds of all the world’s chameleon species and is possibly where they first evolved.

Some of the animal colonists have had better luck than others, the Malagasy Hippos are gone unless I happen to stumble across the kilopilopitsofy, although the Nile Crocodile is worth looking out for (diligently). The Elephant Bird survived until the 17th or 18th century. They stood about 3 metres tall, weighed about 400 kg and laid eggs which could be greater than a metre in diameter.

Now where did I put my passport and the tickets?

I will not be posting until my return so please, call back in about three weeks.