Sunday, 11 November 2012

Vasa faly amny alam-posa

10th November

It happens sometimes, even after all these years of travel, of beautiful places, of kindly people and of glorious wildlife, that I visit somewhere new and am so utterly entranced that I know there and then that I must go back again and again.

Such a place is Kirindy. Naturetrek had suggested I travel there during the three free days between my two Madagascar tours, to scout an extension to our existing itineraries. I gladly agreed. I reached Kirindy, in the powerful heat of south western Madagascar, with a wishlist of the creatures I would like to see during my brief stay. I knew it would be a tall order and felt guilty presenting it to my compulsory forest guide, Nambina, a young trainee with just a few weeks’ experience in the forest. He was surprised I came so prepared, surprised I knew the creatures’ scientific names, even more surprised I could teach him bird sounds in his own forest. We hit it off straight away and resolved to speak only English to one another as he wanted to practise.

At the head of my list of creatures to see was the fosa. This is the top land predator in Madagascar, fiercest of the endemic Eupleridae, lemur-eater, enigma, and smouldering beauty. Kirindy has long been the only place where this otherwise elusive animal may reliably be seen. As I reeled off my wishlist, Nambina and the receptionist shook their heads over the fosa: It’s the mating season, the fosa is hard to find, you might not see it at all.

A deal was struck, an agreement reached, my guide hired. We sat down to wait for dusk and the start of my first walk in search of Kirindy’s celebrated nocturnal lemurs. Then a ripple of excitement went through the camp. Come quickly, come! Two fosas were mating beneath the researchers’ cabin. I knelt on the ground, my bare knees cut by the gritty sand, and stared into the fierce eyes of the male fosa as he lay in union with his mate. A giant smile burst onto my face, as it does when I see Munna, the magnificent male tiger of Kanha Meadows or hear the first willow warbler of spring.

The second creature on my wishlist was the boky boky. This lovely animal belongs to the same endemic family as the fosa but, whereas the fosa was previously believed to be a civet, the boky boky was previously thought to be a mongoose, like the vontsira mena I saw in Ranomafana. Hence these creatures’ respective (but incorrect) English names are narrow-striped mongoose and ring-tailed mongoose. (On my last tour a client cleverly suggested that they should be re-christened ‘nongooses’.) No sooner had I finished admiring the mating fosas, less than a metre from my nose, than two delicate boky boky tiptoed through the crisp fallen leaves at the edge of the camp, gently quivering their exquisite tails. I swooned.

The next thrill came when a Madagascar hog-nosed snake joined the fosas under the cabin, and (probably not because of the snake) the sleek fosas emerged to go their separate ways, the male visibly tottering after his exertions. We too set off into the gathering night. The forest clanged with the loud calls of pale fork-marked lemurs. This hyperactive genus of lemur is unusual in possessing chisel-like teeth for drilling for sap and all four currently recognised species are lithe and lovely. We saw these noisy night lemurs very well, plus several red-tailed sportive lemurs, very similar to the Milne-Edwards’ sportives I saw a few days ago in Ankarafantsika.

Thus in no time at all I had seen four of the seven animals I most wanted to see in Kirindy, and things were set to get better still. In a tangle of vines were two lemurs. One was another fork-marked, the other a beautifully caramel-coloured Coquerel’s giant dwarf lemur (how about that for an oxymoron?) with big ears and a long, dark red tail. The lemurs bickered over the sap wells and the fork-marked tutted away into the night. Hot on their heels we saw fat-tailed dwarf-lemurs and a grey mouse lemur and on my first evening here I had seen most of the strange creatures I had hoped to find.

I still badly wanted to see the vositse or giant jumping rat. This is the largest and strangest of Madagascar’s endemic subfamily of rodents the Nesomyinae. Its range is very restricted, it’s endangered, it looks somewhat like a rabbit and somewhat like a bandicoot, and it hops. Wait here, said Nambina as we sat down in the middle of the camp on the steps of the dining room. A white-browed owl called in to say hello and a Commerson’s leaf-nosed bat made his appearance too but, with the din of the generator, the comings and goings of the students, and the arrival of the jeep bringing water from the distant pump, I questioned whether the vositse would ever be bold enough to appear. I was wrong. As the camp quietened, a large sandy rat with big eyes, long ears and a rabbity nose walked gingerly into camp to feed on a little pile of rice grains left for him. Another appeared soon afterwards. Someone would occasionally walk by and for a moment the rats would hop to the safety of the forest’s edge (relative safety: I had seen three fosas nearby by this point). Soon though they would return and the views we had of these lovely animals were superb. Giant jumping rat: mission almost complete.

But not quite complete. On my first night in Kirindy I had seen six of the seven animals I specially wanted to see. The missing animal was the smallest of all. It’s Madagascar’s smallest primate, indeed it’s widely believed to be the smallest primate in the world, and its name is Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. Grey mouse lemurs, still tiny but around two centimetres larger, are common in Kirindy. Madame Berthe’s is common nowhere and this was the species over which Nambina and the receptionist had shaken their heads most gravely. They would try but it was very hard to find.

So the next evening we headed for a different patch of forest, denser, more tangled, less visited: perfect for a rare mouse lemur. First, though, we watched the amorous fosas. By now the female had bowed to convention and was back in her mating tree, entertaining successive males in turn. As we arrived she was ending her amours with a scar-eared male. They soon parted and he came head first down the tree and flopped to sleep, exhausted, in an adjacent sapling. Immediately the female began to mew and a young male, glossy and unscarred, came padding through the undergrowth. He hitched up the tree, right by his predecessor in the queue for the lady’s affections, and started talking fosa sweet nothings to the female. A pause was called in proceedings and they draped themselves over boughs and started to doze. Three fosas asleep in the same field of view. Astonishing.

Later, in the night, we searched and searched the tangled forest, hoping to find the tiny primate. The lemurs were scarcer here and I had started to give up hope when Nambina’s torch fell on two little lemurs with greyish bodies, gingery faces, small ears and contrastingly red brown tails. No grey mouse lemurs these, but Madame Berthe’s, the last of the most-wanted animals I had come to Kirindy to see.

And what were they doing these mouse lemurs? Well, like the fosas, they were mating. Monsieur et Madame Berthe, it would seem.

New in the beautiful deciduous forests of Kirindy


Cryptoprocta ferox
boky boky (narrow-striped mongoose)
Mungotictis decemlineata
pale fork-marked lemur
Phaner pallescens
red-tailed sportive lemur
Lepilemur ruficaudatus
Coquerel’s giant dwarf lemur
Mirza coquereli
Commerson’s leaf-nosed bat
Hipposideros commersoni
vositse (giant jumping rat)
Hypogeomys antimena
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur
Microcebus berthae


Karsten’s girdled lizard
Zonosaurus karsteni
Mocquard’s big-headed gecko
Paroedura bastardi

Heteroliodon occipitalis
painted big-headed gecko
Paroedura picta

2012 Totals
Mammals: 126
Birds: 981
Reptiles: 70
Amphibians: 16
Fish: 12


  1. Sigh. It looks like Kirindy is a must. I'll just have to start learning French...

  2. I'm afraid it is a must. Unbelievable place which you would love.

  3. Debbie and myself were staying at Camp Amoreux at the same time as you, with Naina as our tour guide. Kirindy was truly wonderful, but upstaged by our subsequent trip up to the Tsingy de Bemahara - topped off by fantastic nocturnal viewing of an Aye-Aye virtually within the village of Bekopaka! All our holiday snaps are at - but tragically we didnt get any of the Aye-Aye. Trevor

  4. Aye-aye! How wonderful! It was a great pleasure meeting you and I'm delighted to hear you had such a good time at Bemaraha. I'm off to India and Burma for two months very soon. Where's next for you?

  5. Lucky. We couldn't even see the bamboo lemurs on our trip (in the east) and no fossa or vontsira either - at least not in the wild. Now I want to go back!