Sifaka Lemur in Madagascar

5 best places to spot lemurs in Madagascar

Pip
February 23, 2015

They have become the icon of Madagascar. Small, energetic primates that have diverged, evolved and adapted to survive in a vast array of this African island’s environments. From the spiny stone forests of the north west, to the rainforests of the upcountry and the offshore islands in the east, lemurs and sifakas (a genus of lemur) have diversified to fit almost every habitat niche. While relatively tame lemurs reside just a short hop outside the country’s capital, Antananarivo, if you really want to explore the diverse world of this intriguing creature, then you need to venture a little further and delve into the far reaches of Madagascar. To witness the island’s most iconic, rare and endangered lemurs, within some of the island’s most stunning landscapes, here are five of the best spots.

1. Parc National de Ranomafana - spot the cyanide-munching rare Golden bamboo lemurs in the tropical rain forests of Ranomafana

Golden Bamboo Lemur, Madagascar
The rainforests of Ranomafana offer one of the best opportunities to see the rare golden bamboo lemur. Photo by Antony Stanley

Draped in vines and lianas, the steamy rainforests of Ranomafana offer one of the best opportunities to see the rare golden bamboo lemur and was the location of its discovery in 1986. With a trained local guide, follow the tracks that wind between lush tropical greenery, home to several rare floral species and impressive stands of giant bamboo that provide food for these animals, along with an (un)healthy dose of cyanide (enough to kill any other animal the same size). Habitat loss has led to a serious decline in numbers of this threatened primate and the park was established in 1991 to help secure its survival. It is also home to eleven other species of lemur, including the Red-bellied lemur and the Greater dwarf lemur, and a cacophony of calls ringing through the air will assist you in tracking these tree-dwellers down.

2. Parc National de l’Isalo - watch the playful and iconic ring-tailed lemur leap across the canyons of l’Isalo

Ring-tailed Lemur, Madagascar
The canyons and red cliff faces of Parc National de l’Isalo are home to a large number of these primates.

Highly adaptable to a vast array of the country’s habitats and incredibly sociable, the ring-tailed lemur has become the ‘pin-up’ for lemurs across the world. With large, expressive eyes and a bushy black and white-striped tail, it spends a large portion of its waking hours on the ground, making it easy to spot. The canyons and red cliff faces of Parc National de l’Isalo are home to a large number of these iconic primates that can easily be spotted rock-hopping and cajoling as you hike through Parc National de l’Isalo, dotted with waterfalls and natural swimming holes that appear like oases. Verreaux’s sifaka and Red-fronted lemur are also common and overnight campers may be awoken by the racket of playful gangs of lemurs, equally intrigued by the presence of humans.

3. Parc National d’Andasibe - listen to the penetrating calls of Indri in the World Heritage Listed forests of d’Andasibe

Indri Lemur, Madagascar
The Indri lemurs are famous for their penetrative morning songs, preceded by a distinctive roar, that can travel up to 3 kilometres.

For a glimpse of Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri, head 150 kilometres to the east of the capital to the World Heritage Listed relic forests of Andasibe. The dense canopies and waterways of this protected area have been identified as critical to support the an array of ecological processes necessary for the country’s unique biodiversity to survive. The Indri lemurs are famous for their penetrative morning songs, preceded by a distinctive roar, that can travel up to 3 kilometres, so you are likely to hear them long before you see them. Initially hunting and, more recently, habitat removal and fragmentation of the forest for agriculture and development, have led to a serious decline in the number of these graceful, tree-jumping creatures and they are now listed as an endangered species. Local guides can be hired at the park headquarters and, if you head out early, your chances of witnessing these large lemurs are high, along with Diademed sifakas and Black and white ruffed lemurs, new additions to the park as part of its lemur re-introduction program to help boost numbers.

4. Nosy Mangabe Island - search for the nocturnal Aye-aye by torchlight on the offshore island

Aye-Aye Lemur, Madagascar
Grab a torch and head into the moonlit night to spot one of these illusive wide-eyed critters Aye-aye Lemur.

The award for most bizarre and reclusive lemur goes to the Aye-aye, the world’s largest nocturnal primate, and the place to see it is paradisiacal Aye-Aye Island (otherwise known as Nosy Mangabe), off Madagascar’s east coast where deserted beaches fringe a species-rich jungle interior. Grab a torch and head into the moonlit night to spot one of these illusive wide-eyed critters. They are famous for having an elongated middle finger, used to extract grubs from holes which they gnaw in trees using their incisor teeth. The Aye-aye has long been surrounded in superstition and is still thought by many villagers to be a symbol of impending death and evil omen. For this reason, it is often killed on sight and, together with habitat destruction, has led to the Aye-ayes becoming seriously endangered. As a result, this 520 hectare sanctuary (and former pirate haven) has become an important refuge to ensure its protection.

5. Reserve National de l’Ankarana - venture into the spiny stone forests of l’Ankarana where crowned lemur and Sanford’s brown lemur seek refuge

Sandford brown Lemur
Ankarana provides an important habitat for both crowned lemur and Sanford’s brown lemur which can be seen frolicking through this geological wonderland.

The rugged landscape of Ankarana, with its etched stone ridges, spiny tower karst, and eroded cave system, has created a refuge where human development can’t penetrate and lemurs can flourish. Located in the north of the country, Ankarana provides an important habitat for both crowned lemur and Sanford’s brown lemur which can be seen frolicking through this geological wonderland. The park is home to Madagascar’s longest cave system (and perhaps the longest in all Africa), with around 100 kilometres of passages currently mapped and ready to explore, as well as smaller populations of Eastern wooly lemurs, Perrier’s sifakas and Fat-tailed dwarf lemurs.

Visit Madagascar - the only place to see lemurs

For many, their image of a lemur is a singing, dancing, slightly wacky, ring-tailed primate (as depicted in the famous animation ‘Madagascar’), but the reality is a whole smorgasbord of these unique primates who have adapted to survive in Madagascar’s impressive array of environments. But with many on the endangered list, it could be now or never if you want to see them in their wild and untamed natural environments.

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