Thanks to the animated movie Madagascar, this once obscure island nation off of Mozambique is climbing its way to the top of every globetrotter's bucket list. While the film's cast -- a lion, zebra, hippo and giraffe -- won the hearts of cinema-goers, these animals actually won't be seen on this island. With otherworldly creatures found nowhere else on the planet, the real stars of the show are the 70 different lemur species, color-changing chameleons and devilish looking geckos which make their homes in towering baobab trees, unearthly lunar deserts, tropical rainforests and on white sand beaches.
So unique that ecologists refer to it as the 8th continent, this isolated wonderland has yet to become the destination it should be and is only now truly opening up to tourism after years of unrest and inaccessibility. This means it is time to go and time to meet the island's exotic residents.
Known as Madagascar’s trademark animal, the Ringtails are highly social, living in large matriarchal troops of up to 30 lemurs. Prepare for laughs as these quirky primates love to bask in the sun with their bellies up and arms stretched out to warm themselves in the mornings. <strong>How to Spot:</strong> Widespread across the southern part of the country the Ringtail can be found in popular Isalo National Park. No need to climb any trees however as these guys are the most the ground-based of all lemurs and can be spotted easily with their distinctive raccoon like tails. <strong>The Trip:</strong> <a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/madagascar-highlights" target="_hplink">Madagascar Highlights</a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
Locally known as Babakoto, these cuddly panda look-a-like is the largest lemur species in Madagascar. Unlike most celebrities, Madagascar’s famed singing lemur practices long-term monogamy seeking a new partner only if its mate passes away. <strong>How to Spot: </strong> You can only meet these guys in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park’s rainforest. To best spot the Indri, look up on tree branches and keep your ears peeled for their loud and distinctive songs which can be heard from 3-4 km away. <strong>The Trip: </strong><a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/madagascar-lemur-fever " target="_hplink">Madagascar Lemur Fever</a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
Often mistaken as a rodent, the Mouse lemur is the tiniest primate in the world and the smallest of all lemurs. Sadly, these adorable creatures prefer to go solo instead of living with families, making the Mouse lemur evasive and hard to spot. So when you get the chance to meet one, make sure your camera’s handy! <strong>How to Spot: </strong>This star of the lemur world is strictly nocturnal and can be found zooming past tree holes especially in the Kirindy Forest, north of Morondava, an area also famed for soaring baobab trees. <strong>The Trip: </strong> <a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/baobabs-and-tsingy-explorer " target="_hplink">Baobabs and Tsingy Explorer </a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
Also known as dancing Sifakas, the Verreaux is famous for its highlight dance move, the side shuffle. Madagascar’s most notable lemur dance troupe live and forage for food atop spiny branches and can be seen leaping up to 10 meters between trees. <strong>How to Spot: </strong>Although these dancers are tree dwellers, you can catch a glimpse of Verreaux Sifaka on the ground early in the morning as they leap sideways past road crossings. Their bodies are highly arboreal that on the ground, the only movement they can do is hopping - SIDEWAYS! Restricted to the dry deciduous forest, you can find them busting-a-move in Isalo National Park. <strong>The Trip:</strong> <a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/isalo-national-park" target="_hplink">Isalo National Park Tours </a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
Hero of Madagascar’s animal kingdom, the large Red Ruffed lemur is perpetually on the alert for villains. Exceptionally vocal, they give of a deep and rowdy bark alerting neighboring wildlife when the country’s only natural predator, the fossa is nearby. <strong>How to Spot: </strong> Its impressive fur and its contrasting coat make this red colored lemur one of the most attractive in Madagascar. Rarely descending from the lush canopies of the rainforest, these gentle creatures can be found in Masoala, on the northeast of the island. <strong> The Trip: </strong><a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/madagascar-signature---lemurs-landscapes-and-beach " target="_hplink"> Madagascar Signature – Lemurs, Landscape and Beach </a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
A master of disguise, the leaf-tailed or Uroplatus geckos are some of this island’s most striking creatures. Found only in Madagascar, these camouflaged creatures are inactive during the day and move only when disturbed. But at night, the Uroplatus blend into the surroundings and patiently wait for insects to come to a striking distance for their meal! <strong>How to Spot:</strong> With a leaf-like flattened tail, their cryptic coloration can easily be mistaken for a leaf or a tree branch, making them tough to spot. The Uroplatus can be found in northern Nosy Be. So look carefully in the ground by fallen leaves or above trees to find them as these geckos blend in the environment to avoid predators and humans. <strong>The Trip:</strong> <a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/anjajavy-beach-extention " target="_hplink">Anjajavy Beach Extension</a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
Contrary to popular beliefs, Chameleons do not change their color to blend in their surroundings. Instead, color is used to communicate with mates, defend territories and express strong emotions. So look out for extremely bright chameleons if you want to avoid a tongue lashing as these guys amplify their colors to the extreme whenever they feel threatened or angry! <strong>How to Spot: </strong> Madagascar is home to about half of the world’s chameleon species. They prefer to live in forest canopies on rainforests such as the Amber Mountain and Ranomafana. You may have a hard time spotting these masters of disguises, but experienced local guides will have no problem! <strong>The Trip:</strong><a href=" http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/ranomafana " target="_hplink"> Ranomafana Tours</a> Photo Courtesy: Simone Sbaraglia
The largest and most famous carnivore in Madagascar, the Fossa has all the makings of a “bad guy.” Mistaken as a cross between a puma and a dog, these predators are actually a member of the mongoose family. Fossas will hunt and eat almost any animal on the island from reptiles and insects to rodents and lemurs. <strong>How to Spot:</strong> Frequently spotted in Kirindy Forest, these villains are the best hunters in Madagascar. Fossas are cathemeral which means that they are active both day and night which puts them up at the top of the food chain in Madagascar’s diverse ecosystem. They are known to follow troops of lemurs for days while climbing trees to pick them off while they sleep. <strong>The Trip:</strong> <a href="http://www.kensingtontours.com/tours/africa/madagascar/morondava " target="_hplink">Morondova Tours </a>
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