Friday, 2 November 2012


31st October

Decades ago, a British naturalist, born in India and raised in Corfu, had a vision of a new zoo in which animals would not be kept for banal amusement but for the education of visitors, for scientific research and, above all, to preserve and propagate highly endangered species until their offspring could be safely released into protected wild habitat. The organisation which arose from his vision, and from the work of countless of his friends and colleagues, now bears his name: Durrell. Its symbol is a dodo, a reminder of what becomes of declining species when no-one is prepared to fight for them.

In north west Madagascar, not far from from Mahajanga, lives a critically endangered reptile: the ploughshare tortoise or in Malagasy angonoka. Most of its habitat has been destroyed, what’s left is frequently burned, the tortoise is eaten by local people and to make matters worse it is highly desirable in the illegal pet trade. The angonoka was set to disappear from the world as the dodo did before it. Durrell however had other plans. At Ankarafantsika, the national park we reached today, Durrell has established a breeding programme for these rare animals and for the much less threatened radiated tortoise. Offspring from the captive animals – which are closely guarded behind iron railings, razor wire and an alarm system – are released into appropriate habitat. Twenty youngsters found their freedom in the forest this year. Thus it is hoped that over time the fortunes of this lovely animal may be changed.

In the simmering heat of a tropical dry forest afternoon we went in search of Ankarafantsika's lemurs. We saw seven species with almost no effort at all. Coquerel’s sifakas – dippily attractive with large chestnut shoulder and thigh patches – lazed in a mango tree in camp. A few metres into the forest we met a mixed group of lemurs: one common brown, an obliging male mongoose lemur and, hidden deep in a tangle of vines, two more mongeese. A little further on a Milne-Edwards’ sportive lemur poked his head from his roost hole. (We saw M-E's sifaka in Ranomafana and it seemed churlish not to pay our respects to his sportive lemur too.) Finally, for our daytime walk, we visited two roosts of the ridiculously cute, owl-faced western avahi.

As soon as darkness fell we journeyed outside the park, as night walks are no longer allowed inside. On a track along the park’s limits we encountered more than half-a-dozen fluffy toy fat-tailed dwarf lemurs (Knopf im Ohr) and two hyper-energetic grey mouse lemurs. So a remarkable half day of lemur watching came to an end.

I haven’t even mentioned the birds. This is a superb place for birds too: Madagascar fish eagle, Humblot’s heron and Madagascar jacana to name but three.

New today in Ankarafantsika


Coquerel’s sifaka
Propithecus coquereli
common brown lemur
Eulemur fulvus
mongoose lemur
Eulemur mongoz
Milne-Edwards’ sportive lemur
Lepilemur edwardsi
western avahi
Avahi occidentalis
fat-tailed dwarf lemur
Cheirogaleus medius


little swift
Apus affinis
Madagascar fish-eagle
Haliaeetus vociferoides
Humblot’s heron
Ardea humbloti
Madagascar jacana
Actophilornis albinucha


collared iguanid
Oplurus cuvieri
broad-tailed girdled lizard
Zonosaurus laticaudatus
Koch’s day gecko
Phelsuma madagascariensis kochi

2012 Totals
Mammals: 109
Birds: 957
Reptiles: 56
Amphibians: 15
Fish: 11

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