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Lintworm goes to Madagascar

Discussion in 'Madagascar' started by lintworm, 12 Nov 2013.

  1. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    In a few days I will leave the Netherlands and stay at the 8th continent, Madagascar, for 5 months. In this thread I will post updates of my time. But because I will be in a very remote place most of the time during the first 4 months updates will be quite scarce.

    Madagascar

    Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world, with a total size of 587.295 square kilometers, which is more than double the United Kingdom and slightly larger than France and as a reference for the Americans: it is a quarter larger than California.

    But there are "only" 22 million people living here, of which about 92% lives below the poverty treshold, making it one of the poorest countries worldwide.

    History

    Although it is only a few hundred kilometres away from present-day Mozambique, the first people to reach Madagascar where Malayan sailors, about 2000 years ago. Later Indonesians, Arabians and also African reached the island, which explains the mix of Asian and African in Malagasy culture.

    The first Europeans that reached the island were the Portuguese in 1500. Both the British and the French tried to establish a colony on the island, but both failed due to diseases and resistance of the inhabitants.

    The island then consisted of different kingdoms and tribes but by the end of the 18th century the Merina kingdom established an Inca like kingdom in Madagascar. The first king was Andrianampoinimerinandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka. Better known by his short name Andrianampoinimerina.

    In the beginning of the 19th century the British introduced the roman alphabet and tried to establish missionaries. But not long afterwards Ranavalona became the queen of Madagascar and during her reign christianity was banned and thousands of people were tortured to death because of their believe. But it had not a gigantic effect, because after her death christianity was to become the official religion of the kingdom.

    The kingdom came to it's end about 120 years ago and in 1896 the French finally made Madagascar their colony after over 2 years of war. Madagascar stayed a colony until 1960.

    During the first 50 years of independence Madagascar has not been very stable, as one of the prime ministers tried to establish a more communist state and in 2009 the Mayor of the capital city Antananarivo, a former DJ, challenged the sitting President and during the chaotic spring coup, he became President, with thanks to the military. In October 2013 there have been elections again and the lasts 2 Presidents were not aloud to be chosen again. The country is now quite stable, but economic development is very poor.

    Tomorrow more about the main attraction of this island: it's unique wildlife.
     
  2. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    Are you going to do a special project or "just" a general trip to explore the wildlife ?
    Althrough I will go to Mexico next month I'm still jealous ! Hope you have a great time and see lots of wildlife !
    Het beste Theo ;).
     
  3. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    VC, I think lintworm will be doing a project ... :)
     
  4. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    That is the short name! :eek:
     
  5. zooboy28

    zooboy28 Moderator Staff Member

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    Sounds very exciting lintworm, look forward to hearing all about your trip!

    Thanks for the background information about Madagascar too. I for one know very little about this country.
     
  6. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    @VC, I will do both, the first 4 months will be an internship, the last month I will spent travelling trough the island.

    @AD, The Malagasy language has neven been well-known for it's concise and short names. It almost seems a kind of a sport to create the longest name possible....

    And for all the people who do not know what endemic means, a species that is endemic for Madagascar, worldwide only occurs at Madagascar. You will see this term a bit more in this post ;)

    Wildlife in Madagascar

    Madagascar is most well-known for it's impressive biodiversity and the absurd high levels of endemism from the approximate 200.000 species found in Madagascar, most are endemic, in some species groups endemism level is over 95%. The reason that Madagascar has such high biodiversity and endemism levels are explained by the fact that there is a huge range of different habitats available and the island is not easily reached.

    Natural history and landscape

    Until 167 million years ago Madagascar was connected with Gondwanaland, but together with India it split of from African and since 65 million years ago it is an island on it's own and the "evolutionary experiment" begun. It's original stock consisted of species groups like boas, iguanas, cycads and ferns. On the bigger continents in the old world boas were replaced by pythons, but in Madagscar pythons have never arrived. In the past 65 million years only very few species have made the ocean crossing to Madagascar and only these "elite" species groups now occur on Madagascar. Most of them have been replaced on mainland Africa by better adapted species, like the python example. But Madagascar proved to be a safe haven.

    Madagascar basically consists of 3 main ecosystems. In the east there are tropical rainforests, in the west dry decidious forest and in the south/southwest an arid, almost desert like spiny forest exists. This is because there is a large mountain ridge running from north to south with peaks up to 2800 meters that keep the rain mostly on the east side of the country. Exept in the rainy season which coincides with the boreal winter, in this rainy season the arid parts get only 50 to 340 mm rain per year, but over 4000 mm per year is normal in the north east.
    This huge precipitation gradient, together with the gradient in altitude and the fact that there are several large rivers/ mountain ridges that function as barrier make that Madagascar was able to develop such high biodiversity levels.


    Plants
    about 13.000 plant species have been recorded from Madagascar, of which 89% is endemic. There are even 8 plant families that are totally endemic to Madagascar. Among them is the Didieraceae family, which are the Malagasy cactuses.

    Most famous however are the baobabs and orchids. 6 from the 8 baobab species live solely on Madagascar (the other 2 in Africa and Asia) and they are sometimes main tourist attractions.
    Madagascar has an immense species richness in orchids, almost a 1000 species are known to occur on Madagascar, of which the vanilla orchid is the most well known. Madagascar is the number 1 producer of vanilla and it is also the biggest export product.

    Other interesting plant species groups include the Pachypodium (Madagascar has 20 out of 25 Pachypodium species, all endemic), Euphorbia and palms. Palms are another rather primitive group that has survived on Madagascar, with 3x more palm species occuring on Madagascar, than on the whole mainland Africa, and over 95% of the Malagasy palm species is endemic. Also interesting are the 2 endemic species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes), a meat-eating group that further only occurs in SE-Asia.


    Invertebrates
    As usual the invertebrate animals take up the biggest part of biodiversity and endemism levels are high as usual in most groups. But from the 300 butterfly species, only 70% is endemic. Most well known species include the giant millipedes and the comet moth (google him).
    There are not that much "nasty" species on Madagascar, all the nasty ones are invertebrates and include 40 species of scorpions, black widow spiders and the malaria mosquitoes. But the other side is that there are no venomous snakes and large mammal predators to watch out for.

    But the most interesting species group in Madagascar is for sure the Gastropoda, the land snails, of which 95% is of course endemic. But more about them in a later post.


    Amphibians
    From the main amphibian groups, only the frogs have ever reached Madagascar. But there has been a huge radiation ever since and from the over 300 species, all but 2 occur only on Madagascar. And there are new frog species discovered on a yearly basis. Very recently about 30 new species were discovered in a tiny rainforest fragment of 2200 hectare, the Betampona reserve (Mad frog bonanza: up to 36 new frogs discovered in tiny Madagascar forest). But also more about Betampona later on, as I will stay there 4 months.

    The most well-known frog species are the tomato frogs and mantellas, Madagascars equivalent of poison dart frogs.


    Reptiles
    The reptile array is more complete, although a few species groups dominate. With almost 350 species occuring in Madagascar, Madagascar is in the top-10 of worldwide reptile diversity, and of course 92% is endemic to Madagascar

    There are nile crocodiles in Madagascar, although an endemic subspecies not a real endemic. But the crocodiles are getting rare and only occur in the western part of the country.

    Tortoises and turtles are also present, exept the sea turtles, 8 species occur on Madagascar, 4 endemic tortoises and 4 turtles, of which one is endemic. The Ploughshare tortoise is one of the most endangered tortoises in the world and very high sought after in the ilegal trade. But Durrel has set up a breeding station in Madagascar and the species recently found it's way to European zoos.

    over 80 snake species occur on Madagascar, none are dangerous to humans. The 3 boa species are well known as these are a relict from the past. The Madagascar hognose snake and the leaf nosed snakes are also well known Malagasy snake species.

    Lizard diversity is high in Madagascar with over 200 species with chameleons and geckos as star species. But monitor lizards and agamas did not make it to the island.

    about 50% of all chameleon species lives in Madagascar, this approx. 80 species are divided in 3 genera: Brookesia, Furcifer and Calumma. Brookesia chameleons are very small terrestrial chameleons that look like a leaf, the other 2 genera also include larger species, of which the Parsons chameleon can grow up to 80 cm.

    Gecko's come in different groups, the day active Phelsuma and the night active Uroplatus are the bigger groups. Other lizard species on Madagascar are the 4 iguana species (endemic family Opluridae), skinks and plated lizards, of course also represented by Malagasy endemics.


    Birds
    Technically spoken also reptiles, but I will treat them separately :p

    Bird species richness is not as high as in other tropical islands, partly because of the distance to the mainland. But about 220 species breed on Madagascar and over half is endemic to Madagascar and 22 further species only occur on the Indian Ocean islands. Many bird orders are represented on Madagascar but not with high species numbers.

    Madagascar does have it's specialities: the 4 asity species constitute an endemic sub-family, the 5 ground roller species are even an endemic family, as are the mesites. Another Madagascar group are the coua's, this cuckoo genus has radiated intoo 9 distinct species. But of course Madagascar also has it's own "Darwin finches": the vangas (Vangidae. All 22 species are endemic, exept one species occuring on the Comoros. The vanga family shows a huge radiation in size and beak form and many niches are occupied by vangas in Madagascar. Google for example the helmet vanga, blue vanga, hook-billed vanga, sickle billed vanga and ward's vanga, to get an idea of the radiation.


    Mammals
    The mammal fauna is remarkable and there are almost 200 mammal species occuring on Madagascar. The native mammal fauna comprises lemurs, tenrecs, mice & rats, Malagasy carnivores and bats. Exept for some bat species all mammal species are endemic to Madagascar.

    the 28 tenrec species have undergone a wide radiation and fulfil all the insectivore niches on the island, there are shrew-like tenrecs, mole-like, hedgehog-like and even otter shrew-like tenrecs.

    The lemurs are the star species of Madagascar and 98 lemur species are recognised at the moment. The Malagasy lemurs are the only day active prosimians left, as the monkeys did not make it to Madagascar. There are 5 distinct families of lemur on Madagascar: the mouse & dwarf lemurs (Cheirolagidae, sportive lemurs Lepilemuridae, true lemurs lemuridae (including ring tailed lemur, vari, bamboo lemur and other true lemurs), Indridae (Including sifaka, indri and avahi) and the Aye Aye has it's own family (Daubentonidae).

    the first 2 families together comprise 60 nocturnal species, most of them have only tiny distributions and are described very recently. The true lemurs are very well known and together with sifakas and indris the only diurnal primate species on the island. The sifakas are divided in 9 species, all separated geographically. This is normal in lemurs and narrowly related species only vary seldom overlap.

    The malagasy carnivores (Eupleridae, consist of 9 endemic species, all with the same ancestor. There are huge size differences from the large fossa to the small ring-tailed mongoose, the carnivores have taken the roles of african mongooses, civets, small cats and the Falanouc has specializes on ants.

    The native rodents all belong to the endemic subfamily Nesomyinae, containing "only" 24 species, of which the giant jumping rat is the most well known.

    From the 36 bat species, 24 are endemic. There are 3 endemic megabats, a fruit fox, a rousette and a straw coloured fruit bat. The other species are insect eaters. The Commerson leaf nosed bat and the sucker-footed bats (endemic family Myzopodidae) are worth mentioning.

    Unfortunately there are a few non-native species occuring on Madagascar, 2 species of shrew, indian civet, the house mouse, both problematic Rattus species and the bush pig. It is still debated whether the bushpig is native or not, but it was probably introduced by humans. In the past there were also pygmy hippo like species occuring on Madagascar, but these were wiped out by humans 1000 years ago.




    So far for the introduction, it should now be clear why Madagascar is a biologist dream and why I wanted to visit Madagascar. In the next post I will introduce what I will be doing ;).
     
  7. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Just to note, this is a tautology as otter-shrews *are* tenrecs!

    I assume you meant to write "even otter-like tenrecs" ;)
     
  8. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    Although they are also tenrecs the Malagasy web footed tenrec, only looks very similar to the Potamogale species from Africa, but is still a result of convergent evolution, as they belong to different tenrec sub-families....
     
  9. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    You still effectively said "tenrec-like tenrecs" ;)

    In any case, as the Malagasy tenrecs belong to three separate subfamilies themselves, with the Potamogalinae representing a fourth basal subfamily, it is reasonable to assume that Limnogale, although deeply nested within the Oryzorictinae, represents a return to the basal condition. It is notable that all the known fossil taxa of tenrec from the African mainland which do not fit the otter-shrew form are believed to represent colonisations *from* Madagascar.
     
  10. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    We are dealing with a Tenrec expert, but from what I read in some articles you seem right. I was not aware of the otter shrews being also tenrecs, I was still thinking of them being

    That is kind of surprising to me as crossing the Mozambique channel proved to be very difficult (only a few mammalian groups made it to Madagascar and established), and then it appears strange to me that tenrecs have made the crossing backwards several times succesfully...
     
  11. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    This article might be of interest to you:

    BMC Evolutionary Biology | Full text | Molecular phylogeny and divergence times of Malagasy tenrecs: influence of data partitioning and taxon sampling on dating analyses.

    Refreshingly, it is open access so no paywalls to get past! As regards the question of how Malagasy tenrecs were able to make the backwards crossing, I believe this is due to the fact that although the prevailing currents make crossing the Mozambique channel to Madagascar very difficult, the same currents are favourable for the reverse journey.

    The above article includes the following passage concerning this issue:

     
  12. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    this is such a good year for trip threads on Zoochat: lintworm in Madagascar, Hix in Uganda, me in Samoa and Asia, Maguari in Florida....

    This one promises to be exciting!
     
  13. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    Tomorrow I will fly to Paris and monday I will finally set foot in Madagascar.

    The first days I will stay in the capital, Antananarivo, here I will collect my research permit and visit the local university & Tzimbazaza museum, the national museum for natural history to discuss my project.

    After that I will go to the east, where I will stay the first 4 months. I will be living in a research center in Rendryrendi, next to the Betampona Strict Nature Reserve. The main reason why I am going to Madagascar is that I will perform my internship there at Madagascar Fauna & Flora Group (MFG). MFG is also the owner of this research center.

    Betampona is a nature reserve of 2238 hectares (22,3 square km) and consists of forest. A large part is primary tropical rain forest. But the reserve is only very small and is an isolated patch of rainforest. But it is very rich in terms of wildlife. 11 species of lemur occur here, including indri & aye-aye. Although they are mainly proud of their re-introduction project of black-and-white ruffed lemurs. A recent amphibian survey found 30 species new for science, so that sets high expectations for my research.

    I will be doing a survey for land snails in Betampona and so far only 17 species, of which 2 possibly new to science, have been recorded in Betampona. So the expectation is that there will be a lot more different species and probably a large part of them is still unknown to science.

    This survey will be combined with an impact assessment of an invasive plant species, the strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) on land snails. This guava is common on disturbed forest sites and can form monocultures, which are very low in heterogeneity. There are programs on their way to start to eradicate this species, although the lemurs are very fond of the guava fruits.

    The nice thing about the research is that a large part is sponsored by St. Louis zoo :). I will be doing this research together with a student from the Antananarivo university, which is quite funny as she will be my "assistant", although I am still a student myself. This is obligatory for foreign people doing research in Madagascar, to supervise a native student. This can be very handy as they speak the local language and very good French (my french is not that good) and "my" student has been in Betampona before

    So that is basically what I will do the first months, the last month I will be travelling through Madagascar, most probably to the south western part of the country and target species include golden bamboo lemur, tropicbirds, Grandidiers vontsira, all mesite & ground roller species and Milne-Edwards sifaka.
     
  14. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    Sounds great ! Land snails, a very neglected group so I guess you will surtainly find new facts ( and prop. new species ).
    I've only limited experience with them, some Agate snails and Vineyard snail being the only ones I've kept privatly......
    Evenso, lots of books and articles about them because I find it a intresting group.
    I wish you all the luck and have a good journey !
     
  15. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    @lintworm, you will no doubt have a whale of a time in Betampona. It is a really nice nature reserve. Also, if you have any time of it may be worthwhile to explore some other reserves in its close proximity.

    I would suggest that in your travel itinerary you may wish to include Perinet and Mantadia which would give you a wide variety of lemur species and other wildlife.
     
  16. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    @VC, snails are indeed very interesting, I started with this species group 2,5 years ago and by now I have seen most of the Dutch species, I would have never thought I would like snails that much.

    @KB, I will pass Perinet (Andasibe) and Mantadia on the way between Tamatave and Tana, but I do not know whether I will visit them as I will probably see most of the species already in Betampona (and surroundings), I am hoping to get to Zahamena and possibly even Alaotra. So I can use my time better in the areas that are not lowland rainforest ;)


    Sunday evening I left the Netherlands, flying from Schiphol to Paris, where I spent the night, trying to get some sleep. Which proved to be quite difficult, but well. Monday morning I had a direct flight to Antananarivo. Because I am travelling alone I could reserve the seat near the emergency exit on the window site. So that means most leg-space and a nice view, although I would rather have a worse seat andtravel with my girl friend or other friends :p. Europe was clouded, but above the Sahara the air cleared and that desert is just immense, it was strange to see at some places many perfect circles of agriculture, but I heard that this is an idea of Kaddhafi (who else...), which involved pumping up fossile water resources, which will be gone quite soon over there...

    At 23:15 local time the plane landed in Antananarivo, there the plane looked for a nice place to park (there is literally no structure...) and we were aloud to walk the 200 meters from the plane to the building. In the building the drivers were already looking for their passengers before you even passed the douane, which reminded me that I was not in Europe :p. Because I had a visa I joined the "I have a visa que". But because I have a convertible visa, I should change it intoo a 5 month visa directly upon arrival, according the the consulate in the Netherlands. But when trying to arrange that, they just said: "well you have 1 entry and you are now in the country, so why worry?". But I do not want to travel a whole country with a visa only valid untill December... When the luggage finally arrived, I got my car that brought me to my hotel (one of the very nice things of cheaper countries, as I normally cannot afford it), Finally I arrived at the hotel around 1:00.

    Today was my first whole day in Madagascar, a small jubilee as it is the 25th country I visited. I spent the whole day in Antananarivo for logistics for my further research. Antananarivo is a typical African city and it is quite big and very unorganised. It is built on a few hills, which are quite steep sometimes, together with the tropical and African looks it is quite an interesting (and smelly) athmosphere. After getting Ariarys, the local currency (1 euro = 3000 ariary, so I am finally a millionaire :)) I picked up my research permit in one of the suburbs. When I arrived there a downpour started and for an European it is a very heavy rain, but here it is "just normal", so I am now curious what heavy rain means, but I am sure I will find out.... But because of the hilly landscape every street is a waterfall which lots and lots of water, but also flushing away a lot of dust and rubbish and stones, making driving more difficult then it already is. As everybody just does his own thing, with chaos as a result. But at least nobody will ever get a fine for neglecting a red light, as there are no traffic lights at all in Antananarivo. The police cars mostly do not have a sirene, so there is just one guy hanging outside the window with a whistle and if you do not get out of the way fast enough somebody with a machine gun will step out and make sure you are out of the way in no-time...

    I also called with the Dutch embassy and they said that for a visa extension, I should go to the Ministry of foreign affairs, which is totally not what the Malagasy embassy told me. But when I arrived around 4 o'clock, the persons handling this were of course already at home, officials are the same anywhere in the world :p.

    In terms of wildlife I did not see a lot, although Antananarivo is quite green at some places. Opposite of my hotel is the presidential palace, with nice garden. This garden is home to a large breeding colony of great white egrets and mynahs, african palm swifts and some martin species are readily seen. Fodies are also common, but more often heard than seen. In the lake in the city of the center I most likely saw black herons, but I will have to check with my binoculars whether it are not dimorphic egrets. I have now seen 2 of Madagascars endemics, because a Madagascar wagtail also passed by. Tomorrow I will visit the ministry again, but also the university and most likely also Tzimbazaza Zoo & museum, so there will be more wildlife tomorrow than today...
     
  17. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    The past few days I spent in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. Although it is not a very green city and it is quite filthy, I have seen already some nice species.

    From the hotel balcony mascarene martins can be spotted all the time and the common mynah, an introduced species is also very common. The madagascar fodies are also seen quite regularly. And because I look out over the presidential garden, the president has easily the best house of the city! (I can imagine why the sitting president performed a coup a few years ago), I also have views on a large great white egret colony.

    Just down the road is a large lake, the Lac Anosy. Where you would expect some nice waterfowl in such a lake, they are almost not present. The whole lake is totally green of algae and the only birds here are herons and great white egrets... But the herons are nice, being black herons. They show very interesting hunting behaviour, by creating shade with their wings, in a way they form a circle around the head of the heron. The heron hopes that the fish will go into the shady area, so he can catch them and it apparantly works, as they are quite abundant.

    Other species that are quite common in the city are the Madagascar kestrel, which is a lot smaller than it's European cousin and the Madagascar wagtail.

    Apart from a lake in the north of the city, where I did not have time to visit, the birding hotspot in Tana seems to be the Tzimbazaza Zoo. The zoo really is a green oasis in the city and apart from a zoo it is also a botanical garden and natural history museum. There are a few lakes in the zoo and in the trees next to these lakes there is a huge heron colony, composed of several species. Most common are the cattle egrets, but dimorphic egrets and black-crowned night herons are also common. Rarer are both species of pond heron, of which I saw only the squacco heron and not the endemic Malagasy pond heron. White-faced whistling ducks were also present. But the highlight species in these lakes was the Madagascar kingfisher, a very brightly coloured small kingfisher species, that resembles the malachite kingfisher and european kingfisher, but is even more colorful.

    Other wild bird species I saw in the zoo were Madagascar bulbul, Madagascar white eye & Madagascar turtle dove, of course all endemic to Madagascar. I also saw a few day geckos, belonging to the species Phelsuma lineata. My hotel room I share with another gecko, the Hemidactylus mercatorius, he is very cute :p, although he does not really replace my girl friend....

    That's it for now on Antananarivo, tomorrow I drive to the coast and saturday I will finally arrive in Betampona Reserve, where I will stay the next four months. I will upload some photos of wildlife and the zoo later and I will also write a short review about the zoo. But when I do not know, as the internet connection in Betampona is very weak.
     
  18. vogelcommando

    vogelcommando Well-Known Member

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    Just one city visited and already this amount of "special" species WOW ! Hope you take a lot of pictures so we can get an impression of your observations !
    Already encountered some snails ?
    I'm sure you will have a great time overthere and greetings from your home-country :).
     
  19. nanoboy

    nanoboy Well-Known Member

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    Cool thread! I look forward to reading more posts.
     
  20. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    At Friday 22nd it was finally time to leave the stinky city of Antananarivo and I would finally be going east. The trip was about 350 km long and would take me from Tana at 1200 meters above sea level to Tamatave (Toamasina), which lies at the coast of the Indian Ocean. Early in the morning I was picked up at my hotel by the car that would bring me to Tamatave, this car turned out to be a very large 4x4, which says enough about the overall quality of Malagasy roads. Although the road to Tamatave is probably the best in the whole country, but it was partly constructed by the Swiss, so it has to be high quality then…

    When we were finally out of Tana and when I had got my research permit and entrance tickets for the reserve, the landscape was quite hilly with a lot of ricefields and almost no trees. During the whole trip we just saw 3 patches of primary forest and the rest was very degraded or dominated by exotic eucalyptus trees. Overall there were not many birds to be seen, in the rice fields were the obvious cattle egret, dimorphic egret and great white egret and I saw even a striated heron, hiding in such a rice field. But further the only birds were Madagascar bulbuls, Madagascar black swift and Madagascar green sunbird. The last 2 being lifers. When getting closer to the coast and when the hills were getting much lower the landscape is dominated by Ravenala palms, an endemic genus. But they prove that not everything that is endemic is nice, because these landscapes are very monotonous and are the result of regular slash-and-burn agriculture. In Madagascar you can also not blame the rich companies for cutting away all the forest, but it are just the poor Malagasy people who try to make a living. So it is very hard to blame them for cutting and burning away the forest, but that does not make it a very nice sight. Fortunately the best birds came at the end. When almost falling asleep a large, very slender and very dark falcon appeared, this could only be a Sooty falcon, a bird that lives in Madagascar during the boreal winter. When arriving at Tamatave we also saw a Madagascar nightjar flying in front of the car.

    The night was the last night in which I could eat what I want, as for the 3 weeks that were to come up in the research station, I will get only rice and beans… But you have to sacrifice something for staying next to a tropical rainforest. The morning our car was ready at 6 am and brought us to a ferry, about 25 km further, which meant a 1,5 hour drive. From the ferry (a canoe) we could step in another car, that brought us to the last village before Betampona that could be reached by car. From this village it was a 1,5 hour walk, mostly uphill to reach the research station. This walk was accompanied by 9 porters who brought my stuff up, it has some advantages to be the rich blank person :p. Especially because all the porters together costed me not even 10 euro. During the walk the only birds that were seen and worth noting were Madagascar coucals, which are very noisy. Their sound reminds a bit to that of a hoopoe.

    The research station is very nicely placed on a hill ridge and my hut has a first class view on the rainforest of Betampona! And there are also on the research station enough animals to be seen. The Phelsuma lineata geckoes are just about everywhere and I share my hut with an Uroplatus lineatus, a night active gecko. The large Madagascar day gecko, Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis, also lives at the station. But the nicest inhabitant is a boa, a Sanzinia madagascariensis, of about 1,20 meter, who prefers to stay in one off the toilets all day. The herping team that was here the first few days of course took a sample from the boa :p. There are also some bird species that are regularly visiting the station, this are Souimanga sun bird, Madagascar magpie robin, Madagascar bulbul, Madagascar cuckooshrike, Nelicouri weaver and Madagascar drongo. Even the white-fronted brown lemurs tend to visit sometimes, but sofar I have only heard them near the station. The other mammal species present is unfortunately the brown rat, these critters love to eat everything, even parts of my shoes were no exeption. This is quite annoying but everyone has at least the same problem here….

    Sofar I have been in the primary rainforest 2 times and this rainforest is indeed very nice! Indri’s are quite common and we hear them every day, also at the camp. So far I have seen 3 of them and if you realize that the reason why we hear them at the station is because they make noise as loud as howler monkeys, it is just breathtaking when they are calling in a tree right next to you! These indris are indeed very nice animals and they would make a great display in zoos, but this will probably never happen due to their nutrition… Other lemurs we have observed so far are the diademed sifaka, which are almost as big as an indri and very different than the lemurs seen in European and US zoos. We were just walking in some primary forest and then the guide pointed out to the left and I thought he saw the blue coua we were hearing, but just in 10 meter distance there were 2 of these diademed sifakas low in the trees! We could also observe a group of white-fronted brown lemurs in the forest.

    Birding is said to be difficult in rainforests and they are damn right! I have heard a lot of species by now, but the only ones seen are bulbuls, crested coua, blue coua, Madagascar green pigeon and Madagascar white-eye. The couas are particularly nice as they tend to jump through the trees instead of to fly, which gives them a very turaco like appearance. The heard species include red-fronted coua and some raptor species.

    But the nicest animals seen in the forest include the reptiles and amphibians. Many species are quite common, including geckoes of the genus Paroudura (masobe and gracilis), Lygodactylus geckoes, plated lizards (Zonosaurus brookyi) and many snakes, including the very nicely coloured Leioheterodon madagascariensis and Madagascarophis colubrinus. But the stars are without doubt the chamaeleons, so far I have seen a Calumma nasutum and 2 Brookesia chameleons. These Brookesia tend to play dead when you “catch” them, but the small eye keeps moving all the time, this is a very funny sight. I will upload pictures of some of the species later on, but here at the research station the internet connection is just good enough to upload this story.

    The coming days I will continue my snail research and I hope to see the ruffed lemurs, so far only heard them, and preferably also a species of Vanga, which have been elusive until now… All these nice sightings compensate for the rice&beans and being so far away from family&friends and for the quite basic conditions under which I live here. But they are worth it! And I still have 4,5 months in this crazy but beautiful country, as long as my visa gets extended… Which goes with the mountains of administration that are usual for countries in the developing world…
     
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