Looking for Lemurs in Madagascar
There are many reasons to visit Madagascar, that wildlife-rich island nation located in the Indian Ocean, approximately 250 miles off the coast of East Africa. But my reason was very particular and precise: I longed to see lemurs. For years these adorable primates, with their large eyes, pointed snouts, and long, ringed tails, had appealed to me. Madagascar is the only place on earth to see them, so when I was offered the chance to go there, I leapt. And I cajoled my friend Sara to join my quest.
Once on the island, Sara and I learned that the best way to find lemurs is on private guided rainforest walks. We also learned the Malagasy phrase “mora mora,” which translates to “slowly slowly”; this uber-relaxed pace of walking is the way you get to see lemurs. You cannot power walk or stomp around the forest; you need to move quietly and slowly, spending time in the forest for its residents to appear to you.
In Masoala National Park, the largest of the island’s protected areas, we hiked in the coastal rainforest in search of the red-ruffed lemur, which is found naturally only in Masoala. After an hour of mora mora, we found a family, but they were so high up in the canopy that it wasn’t easy to get a clear view of them and my neck started to feel strained from being craned. Still, our patience and persistence were rewarded, and we saw them resting in the trees and climbing between the trees. Although they weren’t close, it was still special to have found them at all! We also saw the white-fronted brown lemur at Masoala.
At the gorgeous resort of Miavana, on a remote island called Nosy Ankao, they had lemur trekking, but the lemurs had been relocated to the island for conservation, so they wore tracking collars. When we found the crowned lemurs, it felt a bit anticlimactic, as their beeping device told us when we were getting closer. The conservation being done at Miavana is laudable, but I would prefer it if the guides found the lemurs without tracking devices. Still, we saw more lemurs!
Our next stop was Mantadia and Andasibe National Park, which has thirteen species of lemurs. Here our first sighting was the Indri lemurs. These are the largest species of lemur and look like a big teddy bear or very odd panda. Walking through the forest, we first heard their loud, wailing, eerie call. The guides tracked them down from these sounds.
We also saw the grey bamboo lemur, red-fronted brown lemur, ring-tailed lemur, and Diademed sifaka. Some of these lemurs were quite active, jumping from tree to tree and climbing in the canopy right above our heads. During our night walks, the excellent guides with superhuman vision were able to find and show us the nocturnal sportive lemur, Eastern woolly lemur and some of the smallest primates, the Goodman’s mouse lemur and grey mouse lemur. The mouse lemurs were the hardest to find as they are indeed about the size of a mouse. The guides would spot the mouse lemur, call us over, and point their flashlights, but still we couldn’t see it, hidden away in a tree. They pointed out mouse lemurs four times in different trees until finally we saw one of the little guys!
For a close-up and personal experience, we went to Lemur Island, a project created by the Vakona Forest Lodge, which is a comfortable lodge set in the middle of a rainforest. It is illegal to have lemurs as pets (or to hunt them), but this area houses former pets/domesticated lemurs which are very comfortable around people and have been trained to interact with the guests.
I had mixed feelings about this. Although there are no cages, the area still feels zoo-like; three different lemur species are kept separate from each other by artificial islands. Still, it was amazing to see and experience the lemurs up close—to see their cute little feet and feel their super soft fur as they brushed up against us. You can’t pet them, but they can climb on you! The lemurs came onto our canoe, jumped on our heads, hung down from branches just above us while we walked—it was thrilling. Taking selfies with the lemurs was one of my trip highlights.
Also, here I saw my favorite lemur—the sifaka—in full action. The sifaka is the only lemur species that jumps on two feet and dances around. My kids used to watch a PBS show called Zoboomafoo which featured footage of a wild sifaka. I thought all lemurs jumped and danced on two feet, but it’s only the sifaka!
We also found Verreaux sifaka, ring-tailed lemurs, grey-brown lemur, white-footed sportive lemur, and grey mouse lemurs in the sacred spiny forest near Mandrare River camp. I couldn’t understand how the lemurs could jump between and land on the thorny/spiny octopus forest trees without hurting their feet, but they must have tough foot pads!
The last place we did rainforest lemur spotting was near Manafiafy. We found Collared Brown and Southern Wooly lemurs here. This was my favorite lemur walk as we ended on a gorgeous ten-mile beach where a bottle of champagne awaited us, and we enjoyed a delicious grilled fish lunch while relaxing on the beach and snorkeling in the warm clear waters.
There are many wildlife wonders on Madagascar—many species of frogs, chameleons, birds, insects, and more—but for me, it was all about the lemurs. And I’m happy to say that, by the end of our journey, my longing for lemurs was completely satisfied!
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GeoEx’s Sabrina Middleton, Director of Client Services, has waddled with penguins in Antarctica, traveled across Siberia by railway on the Golden Eagle train, hiked to Machu Picchu, gone swimming with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands, and much more during her 22 years with GeoEx.