We had been walking through beautiful primary forest for about an hour and had seen gorgeous diademed sifakas dancing sideways across a log over a river, and black and white ruffed lemurs, the real canopy experts, peeping down at us from tall mahogany trees. But no indri.
This was the last but one day of my first ever trip to Madagascar, the Big Island. Perhaps stupidly, I wasn’t prepared for the size. It’s slightly bigger than France.
I also wasn’t expecting the huge variety of landscapes. I knew there were great beaches, and of course forest. I had in mind much more forest than there actually is, and learned that sadly deforestation has been massive here. However there have always been Serengeti-like grasslands (without the zebra, giraffe and lions of the mainland of course) in the highlands.
There are large areas of ‘spiny forest’ which is an arid habitat including cactuses, octopus plants, euphorbias, and of course the famous baobabs. The Avenue of Baobabs at Morondava is the zenith of baobab landscapes here.
Paddy fields are an unexpectedly ubiquitous sight throughout the island too. My guide laughed at my surprise, saying that all Malagasy people eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Without rice, you haven’t had a proper meal apparently. This comes from another fact which was unknown to me which is that much of Malagasy heritage is Malaysian/Indonesian. So that explains the slightly Asian features of some Malagasy people. This ‘African’ island does indeed have many people of African extraction, but there is a strong Asian flavour to it too, especially in the east.
The 10-day trip I did went from the south western area of Ifaty on the coast towards the capital, Tana, further north east. I saw my first lemurs in Isalo National Park (sleepy ring-tailed lemurs and a rather handsome white Verreaux sifaka), and continued to Ranomafana to see the rare golden bamboo lemur, but sadly they weren’t playing that day. Travelling through the highlands brought us close to some interesting cultural sights such as arts and crafts and strange funereal traditions.
The east is where most of the rainforests are. Mantadia was the primary forest where we began our hunt for the indri and other lemurs. Far fewer people visit this park than its more famous neighbour, Andasibe, as it’s harder terrain for walking and the lemurs can be trickier to find here. However in my view it was completely worth it even for the forest itself. The lemurs we saw were a bonus.
The visit to Andasibe was my last day in Madagascar. This was my last chance to spot an indri. It was cool and misty in the forest that morning. About an hour into the walk, the song of an indri began ringing round the canopy. Another one replied, and another. We couldn’t see any, but my guide could tell roughly where they were and we set off at a trot. The song paused. Apparently singing takes it out of them, and they often don’t sing again for about 2 hours. Was that my chance gone? We climbed forested hills, clambered down again. We spotted cute brown lemurs and the handsome diademed sifakas. We spotted a weird moss-tailed gecko which blended itself almost invisibly into the bark of a tree. Surely if my guide was good enough to spot the gecko he could find me an indri? We had about half an hour left.
And then we saw them. Two indris quite low down the tree so you could really see their cuddly teddy bear fur, tufted ears and surprised eyes. The closest to us seemed unperturbed by our presence, and I got some great shots.
But that was not all. He started singing. I’m sure it was to me, or certainly for me. For one whole minute, everything else paled into insignificance. The song of the Indri? Definitely worth coming back for.