Mantadia National Park

Friday 7 June 2024 – What with yesterday’s night walk and a latish dinner, having to get up at 0530 this morning wasn’t particularly welcome, but, then again, we’re travelling, and early starts seem to figure frequently when we do this.  We compensated for the early start with a sumptuous breakfast before meeting Kenny and Haja for our day in Mantadia National Park, which held out the prospect of seeing Indri and Sifaka lemurs.

I say “day”. We only spent about four hours actually walking around in the National Park looking for interesting things, but the entire process took nearly double that, because the drive to get to our starting point took a long time. The distance we had to cover wasn’t all that great – perhaps 17km – but the going was exceedingly tough.

It was a misty morning as we picked up Abraham

and we started out on our journey.  The road was never a good surface, but before long we were bumping along an extremely rough track

The track passed through a village

Note the chickens sheltering under this house

and led to a control gate, where Abraham showed our entry tickets.  From there, it was 13km to the place where we could leave the car and start walking – another hour and a quarter of this horribly bumpy progress. On the way, we passed a work party

who seemed to be replanting original tree species as well as (we hoped) maintaining the track. This track

has fallen into disuse largely as a consequence of the 2009 Madagascar “coup”. The president at the time, who had been in power since 2002, was ousted in a way that the international community condemned and so immediately withdrew financial support and investment, precipitating one of the worst economic crises in the island’s history. There is a suggestion that the French were behind the defenestration of the president, who had overseen a successful period in the island’s development, but seemed to be moving in directions counter to France’s interests.  As far as Mantadia National Park is concerned, the practical upshot was a withdrawal of the support necessary to maintain the access road in good condition; it used to be possible to drive coaches along it, but this is clearly not possible now.  It seems to me that this reduces the inflow of punters and therefore cash for maintaining the facility, so it is in something of a downward spiral.

Anyhoo….

The car was a bit muddy by the time we parked up.

Haja walked off a short way and came back quite excited about something he’d seen.  I think he rather hoped it would spook Jane but I told him no,

she was not afraid of snakes (this was another tree boa). Then Abraham led Jane, Kenny and me off into the forest, which is so-called primary rainforest, in other words largely untouched by human activity, with old trees and an undisturbed forest floor.

Well, not quite undisturbed; there were signs that things have been put in place to facilitate the ability to walk around.

We started a few minutes after 9am, and it wasn’t long before we saw our first lemur,

or, rather, lemurs – this was a group of three Eastern Woolly lemurs, one of whom we’d (hopefully briefly) woken up. As we walked further, we heard the distinctive sound of Indri staking their territorial claims.

Our path appeared, though, to be taking us away from the calls we could hear, and we wandered around for the better part of an hour without seeing any lemurs at all.  We did see a rather spectacular ants’ nest

and a fungus the like of which I’d never come across before,

but I felt that this was just temporising.  What did we want? Lemurs! When did we want them? Now! Fortunately, Abraham spotted one for us.

In fact there was a group of at least four Common Brown lemurs.

We wandered on, hoping to come across some more lemurs. Without much success, it has to be said, for another three quarters of an hour.  However, we did get a rare treat,

a Madagascan Pygmy Kingfisher; these birds are quite difficult to find.

Just a few minutes after that, we found our Indri!

In fact, there were a couple of Indri moving around in the trees,

including this female, a shot I’m really quite pleased to get.

There were two slightly amusing aspects to this encounter.  We had come across another group, two Dutch people with their guide, and as we were taking photos of this group of Indri, they were in the environs, taking photos too, having spotted the Indri themselves. There’s obviously a little competition between the guides, because Abraham said to me, quietly, “but we saw them first“.

The other comedy moment was the expression on the faces of the Indri, because each of the three guides were playing Indri calls on their phones, to try to attract the attention of the lemurs.  I suspect the Indri were thinking “what the bloody hell is going on here?”

It went quiet again after the excitement of seeing the Indri.  I fell to wondering what else we might expect, and remembered that Kenny had mentioned that there might be Sifakas around. It struck me that we would like to Si one of them Fakas, and, before I knew it,

there it was – a Diademed Sifaka! There was another one nearby, too,

but it was too busy feeding itself (very noisily!) to be interested in us.

It wasn’t long before Abraham spotted some movement among the trees which resolved itself as a group of Red-bellied Lemurs making their way through the trees.  I found the next half an hour very frustrating, as all I got were photos like this

and this.

These lemurs were very active, and were moving quite swiftly along; they’re very agile and were leaping from branch to branch with gay abandon, which is marvellous to watch but an utter bastard to photograph. Our group – and the Dutch group, too – crashed through the undergrowth trying to keep up with these lemurs and get ourselves into a position where one could get a clear view for a photo. Crashing through primary rainforest is pretty unrewarding, as there are all sorts of vines and trailing branches to trip up the unwary.  I became grimly [grumpily, more like – Ed] resigned to not being able to get a clear shot, when all of a sudden they stopped moving for just long enough to get some photos.

This was the male of the troop.  There were some young ones playing about in upper branches

and I managed to get a clear shot of one of them, which was very cute indeed.

By this stage, we’d been chasing around the forest for well over three hours, but had seen no fewer than five different species of lemur, as well as the kingfisher. This counts as a very rich haul; apparently a group that had been there the day before came away having seen none, so we were very lucky indeed, as well as being indebted to the skill of our guides, Abraham and Kenny, in spotting them and, further, finding the right position to get clear photos. So, tired but happy, we headed back to the car, where a packed lunch, prepared by our hotel, was waiting for us.

Then we just had to repeat the slow grind of the bumpy ride back to the hotel – Haja certainly earned his corn with the three-plus hours he spent wrestling the car along that benighted track.  Amazingly, whilst driving along, he actually spotted another lemur!

This was an Eastern Grey Bamboo lemur; it was a bit tricky to get the right angle for a clear shot, but I think I managed in the end.

Not that one is counting, of course – perish the thought – but six species of lemur in a day! It was by turns boring, frustrating, tiring and rewarding – an excellent outing overall.

We had planned to stop in the village of Andasibe on our way back so that we could wander round what is a picturesque place; but the heavens opened as we drove back (more luck! it could have rained whilst we were out in the forest) so we simply headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s plan involves a shorter drive to a longer walk, to be taken in the Analamazaotra National Park – more chances to see Indri and Sifaka lemurs.  This is secondary rainforest and a more popular tourist destination, apparently, so the lemurs are more habituated to humans, so it should be interesting to see what effect that has on the chances to see and photograph whatever we happen across.

One thought on “Mantadia National Park

  1. Kate Burridge

    The haunting call of the Indri…superb photos of lemus! And another spectacular kingfisher. I may virtually follow you around to plead for a copy of your favorite lemur photo. When you are home, of course!

    Reply

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