Ecotours in Madagascar are Fun, and Help the Island’s Habitats
The luxury of air travel is clear with a trip to Madagascar: Your vacation dollars are well spent seeing lemurs and other one-of-a-kind species in their natural habitat.
Madagascar is a fascinating destination that is off the beaten path and yet a marvelous place for those interested in natural history and ecology. This island, off the coast of East Africa, is home to the largest number of endemic species in the world: Endemic refers to species that live nowhere else. The environments you can experience in this island range from rain forests to dry forests to limestone caves, to excellent coral reefs offshore.
Two Interesting Animals of Madagascar
Lemurs: The real superstars of a trip to Madagascar are the lemurs. These are primates, but more primitive than monkeys, and live only in Madagascar. They are highly diverse, ranging from the tiny nocturnal mouse lemur to the large indri, but all live in trees. The ring-tailed lemur is probably the one species that people have seen or heard the most about. Lemurs live in large troops and can be easily observed in large numbers in the Berenty Reserve, in the spiny forest environment in the southern part of the island. Also seen in Berenty are the sifakas, another type of lemur which, when they venture down from the trees, do a kind of ballet, leaping sideways before climbing up another tree. They are very cute, and it’s fun to see!
Chameleons: another endemic group of animals found in Madagascar; These are the only reptile I’ve ever found to be charming. Well…not charming, exactly, but fairly. They have excellent aim, using their long tongues to snag insects from tree branches. Chameleons walk with the most interesting hesitant step, supposedly to resemble twigs swaying in the breeze (this is meant to fool predators) and they have a unique ability to look both up and down at the same time. Their googly eyes operate independently from each other, so one can look one way while the other looks somewhere else. This is such a useful adaptation, I don’t understand why it didn’t happen in other groups of animals. We really would have liked to have this ability while walking through the rainforest: We were busy looking up for lemurs and birds in the trees, while hoping not to trip over roots or fall into gulleys.
Madagascar is not easy to get to; it’s a luxury ecotravel destination. But this is not a place for people who require five-star hotel accommodation while on vacation. The infrastructure that was present during our trip ranged from decent hotels in some areas, to camping out in areas that had no hotels at all. But even with the dump we stayed in at one place, there was interesting wildlife in the form of a Madagascar hissing cockroach, which is much less disgusting than the domestic varieties we’ve all seen elsewhere. While a handful of hotels refer to themselves as “luxury hotels,” I recommend saving your high-end travel for truly upscale resorts elsewhere. Madagascar is best appreciated with green travel dollars going towards experiencing this fascinating island up close.
The Indigenous Population Today
The Malagasy people are a mixture of migrants from Polynesia, the first settlers, and then later immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and from Africa. They speak Malagasy and French, since the island had once been a French colony. Madagascar is setting aside areas as National Parks and reserves; However, the island is poor and undergoing a rapid population growth (of the human population) and thus deforestation is rampant: This reduces available habitat for all the wonderful animals and plants. From the air you can see soil erosion as the reddish colouration of the water going down the rivers to the sea.
Ecotours provide income for the Malagasy, who then understand that a sustainable rainforest provides for their future, as well as for that of the endemic species of Madagascar. But change doesn’t happen overnight; I would advise people to visit as soon as possible, while there are still wonderful things to see there.2015-09-25