The beaches and scenery of Madagascar are breath-taking and a day relaxing on Nosy Be is just what the doctor ordered. However, there is a good chance you’ve booked a holiday to Madagascar for a glimpse of one of the many rare and exotic creatures that are found nowhere else in the world except on the island of Madagascar.
Here is what you’ve got to look forward to when you travel to Madagascar… and this is just the short list of animals on the island that you ‘must see”. No wonder someone once said Madagascar is where “Noah parked his ark”.
Madagascar is famous for its wide array of cute and quirky lemurs, and we’re not just talking about the animated characters in the movie. They are unique to the island and will enthral you with delightful behaviour such as singing like a whale or elegantly swaying like a ballet dancer.
The only reason lemurs exist today is because of how isolated the island was for centuries. Until humans started hacking up the rainforests they call home, they lived a life of obscurity in the depths of the dark, deep woods.
Fossils found of the first lemur-like primates date back to roughly 60 million years ago when Madagascar was still attached to mainland Africa. More intelligent primates (monkeys and gorillas) chased the lemur species out of their space and these gorgeous creatures saved themselves from extinction by living a solitary existence in what are now the remaining untouched rainforests of Madagascar.
It’s hard to say whether they are a cat, a squirrel or a dog but that doesn’t matter; they’re fascinating animals to observe in their natural habitat. In fact, they’re closely related to bushbabies with their characteristic long noses and large eyes. They act a lot like monkeys by hanging out in social groups, foraging on fruit and vegetation and are more active in the day then their great-great grandparents were.
Bones of an extinct species have been found deep inside a water-filled cave. This graveyard has revealed that the extinct lemurs were as big as gorillas, now known as giant lemurs. They lie alongside hundreds of bones belonging to the extinct elephant bird and a flightless giant similar to an ostrich. Even today, a holiday to Madagascar feels like you’re stepping into a scene of the movie, Jurassic World.
The largest lemur found on the island these days is the Indri, which looks like a dwarf compared to the mystical giant lemur. There are nearly 60 species of lemur on the island and they are all endemic to Madagascar, meaning they are not found naturally living in any other country in the world.
The island accounts for about 20% of all primates existing world-wide and that is why conservation efforts to protect these beautiful animals are so crucial.
You might think you’re looking at a weird-looking dog or cat but if you spot a fossa, you’ve found one of the few predators native to Madagascar. This species is found nowhere else on earth so if you travel to Madagascar, make sure it’s on your “must-see” list.
They are actually members of the mongoose family but it’s easy to make a mistake as they have a doglike snout and a catlike body. They have retractable claws which is why they were put in the ‘cats’ group for many years. They grow up to nearly 2 meters long and are incredibly agile, using their long tails for balance when hopping from branch to branch.
Fossa’s feed on reptiles, birds, other small mammals and livestock and, unfortunately, over half their diet consists of lemurs. They are active at night and their dark reddish-brown coat is perfectly camouflaged among the dense trees. Obviously they can easily prey on sleeping lemurs who hang out high in the tree branches. Fossas use their sharp claws to bring down their prey. Because they hunt in the tree tops and hardly walk on ground, their claws remain sharp and lethal.
Fossas are highly endangered (not another one!). Not only are they trapped and killed by humans because there are hungrily preying on their livestock, but almost 90 percent of their habitat has been destroyed by deforestation.
The next most-bizarre creature to put on your ‘must-see’ list for a holiday to Madagascar is an Aye-aye. You can’t miss this quirky little creature that looks like a cross between a large rat and a bat. It has a long twig-like middle finger, huge eyes, pointy teeth and big ears. It’s not going to win any beauty competitions in the jungle.
Sleeping by day and hunting by night, it taps on the tree bark and uses its sensitive hearing to detect the movement of insect larvae in tree trunks. It forages out the poor unsuspecting bugs using its long finger and then it’s dinner time for the Aye-aye.
Sadly this is another exotic creature that is at risk of extinction at the hands of thoughtless humans. Not only has most of its natural habitat been destroyed by deforestation, it has been eradicated in large numbers because of a ridiculous local belief that an Aye-aye is bad luck.
A Lekker Adventures’ travel guide knows the hunt is on as soon as his group sets foot on the island. The target? A charming chameleon to ogle over and photograph.
Nowhere else in the world will you find such a wide variety of these unique creatures who are known to be the masters of disguise. They come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes and look like weirdly-shaped lizards with eyes that swivel in different directions in their heads.
Most people believe that chameleons have perfected the art of changing their skin colour as a means of camouflage. But the experts say it is actually a form of communication with their mates; letting them know they feel threatened and aren’t happy they’ve crawled into their territory or they’re chilled and relaxed. It’s a unique way of expressing their emotions.
The majority of the chameleons found in Madagascar are almost entirely endemic to the island. They are happiest living in the rainforests but it’s quite common to find them having a lazy day on a plant in the garden of your hotel. They are easier to spot on a night walk as they initially reflect a ghostly white colour in the beams of a flashlight but a well-trained eye can spot them hiding out during the day among leaves and branches.
Chameleons are usually found on their own in a small area. They aggressively guard their territory and aren’t happy with any unwanted visitors. They are active during the day and sleep at night, climbing up to the higher reaches of shrubs. They use their funny tails for balance while they are walking, otherwise you’ll see it tightly coiled around a twig or branch as it nods off for the night.
Their little feet tightly grasp what they are hanging onto and they flick out their long sticky tongue to catch a meal of insects and small vertebrates. Chameleons don’t go anywhere fast, in fact it’s like watching paint dry waiting for a chameleon to climb up a branch. You can sit for hours and watch these gorgeous creatures slowly, very slowly, going about their day.
The name “Chameleon” is derived from the Greek words chamai (on the ground, on the earth) and leon (lion) so their name means “earth lion”. A few of the gems to look out for are the Oustalet and Parson’s chameleon who vie for the title of the world’s largest chameleons, and can grow to the length of two rulers.
If you suffer from ranidaphobia which is a fear of frogs, than a holiday to Madagascar might be a bit tricky for you. The island is home to more than 300 species of frogs, of which 99 percent are endemic. It is believed that there are still many species living on the island that are yet to be discovered. Funny enough frogs are the only amphibians found in Madagascar; there are no toads, salamanders or newts.
The island’s frog population is a visual feast; from the strikingly-beautiful Mantella to the luminous-red Tomato frog. Where the chameleons are experts in disguise, many of the island’s frog species use gaudy colours to scare off predators. It’s best not to handle a frog you don’t know much about as some of them give off a toxic secretion when threatened. It’s not life-threatening stuff but not pleasant either, particularly if it causes an allergic reaction.
You’ve got to find a tomato frog when you travel to Madagascar with Lekker Adventures. They can grow up to the size of a human fist and when angry, it puffs up its body to look even bigger. They got their name because they look just like a tomato, although their bellies are yellowish and they have black spots on their throats.
The gecko species of Madagascar are indigenous to the country and its surrounding islands. They too, like the chameleon, are masters of disguise. One to look out for is the flat-tailed gecko but good luck finding one of those – it’s like finding a needle in a haystack if you’re doing it the hard way in the rainforests and not at a zoo.
Some mimic decaying leaves while others can change to look like tree bark. Their colour and the way their skin reflects light makes them nearly invisible to other creatures. There are more than 10 species of the flat-tailed gecko, the largest in the world being the Uroplatus giganteus. Not only can it change its skin colour but also the fringe around its legs, body and neck.
If you spot one of these rat-like creatures, count yourself lucky because they are notoriously hard to find. They trawl the shallow waters on the eastern side of the island, searching for insects and tadpoles to eat.
They are excellent swimmers who use their large hind-limb muscles and webbed feet to dive down to the muddy bottom where they rub the sensitive whiskers on their snouts to fish out grub. Once they latch onto their prey, they drag it up to the surface, roll onto their backs and kill it off by kicking it with their hind feet. It’s a sight to see.
Experience the sights and sounds of Madagascar. Lekker Adventures specialises in providing you with the complete travelling experience to Madagascar. Click here to find out more about travelling to Madagascar with the assistance of Lekker Adventures.