Masoala National Park


Masoala National Park protects Madagascar’s largest remaining lowland rain forest, so wild that parts of it still are not fully explored—but what is known presents astonishing diversity of life.

White-fronted brown lemurs with shining orange eyes and snowy ruffs and chests peer from trees towering 100 feet or so (30 m) to the canopy. Goblin-like aye-ayes probe with long, thin, middle claws five inches (13 cm) long into crevices seeking insects which their keen ears detect deep under the bark. Handsome red-ruffed and eastern fork-marked lemurs find one of their few homes here.

Among birds are Madagascar serpent eagles and red owls, both once thought extinct, along with helmet vangas with huge light-blue bills, red-breasted couas, scaly and short-legged ground rollers, and their lovely rainbow-hued cousins, pitta-like ground rollers.

Night air can be filled with musical calls of tree frogs, including tomato and beautiful whiteand- gold heterixalus, as well as unnerving screams of panther-like reddish fosas.

Boundaries of this 888-square-mile (2,300-km2) reserve across the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar were drawn in 1997 to assure protection of these and other rare species. They extend from lush forest filled with rushing rivers and streams to mangroves, bays, white sand beaches where sea turtles haul up to scour out nests, and three marine reserves. Offshore are some of the most pristine, diverse and extensive coral reefs around Madagascar, and near them are areas where large numbers of dolphins and humpback whales gather in recently discovered breeding grounds.

There’s no distinct dry season in this wettest place in Madagascar where annual rainfall regularly exceeds 130 inches (350 cm) and occasionally 195 inches (500 cm), but November is likeliest to have a few dry days.

Access, at least until recently, has been by boat, about two hours from Maroantsetra, with no accommodations other than campsites. Several footpaths enter the reserve. Boat trips can be arranged at hotels in Maroantsetra, which lies at the head of the Bay of Antongil, breeding home of the humpback between July–September. Boat trips to see them can be arranged through Parc National Masoala in Maroantsetra.

Transport to the bay’s island reserve of Nosy Mangabe with aye-ayes, dwarf, mouse, brown, and black-and-white ruffed lemurs is by boat from Maroantsetra. There are trails, campsites, and it is sometimes possible to sleep in the caretaker’s hut. Masoala is known for trekking. One of Madagascar’s premier treks connects Maroantsetra with Antalaha, 69 miles (111 km) long and about five days, not easy—muddy, steep, with insects and leeches aplenty—but usually enthralling to those who can make it. Several itineraries combine trekking with sea-kayaking along the coast.

ALSO OF INTEREST

Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia (aka Perinet), near Andasibe and Antananarivo, with about 60 indri family groups, also aye-ayes and other lemurs, chameleons, over 100 bird species including ground rollers, green sunbirds, rare Madagascar red owls, and over 100 frog species—perhaps world record for frog density—including beautiful golden mantellas. Heavily visited, weekdays best. Hotels nearby and in Moramanga.

Parc National Andohahela has a unique range of ecosystems including evergreen forest, transitional and spiny forest, endemic palms, baobobs, and aloes. Many faunal species including sifakas, red-tailed lemurs, and radiated tortoises.

Parc National Ankarafantsika and Reserve Forestière d’Ampijoroa near Mahajanga are home to seven lemur species, most of them easily seen, including sportive, woolly, gray mouse, fat-tailed dwarf lemurs, and Coquerel’s sifakas. Contains the richest avifauna in Madagascar with 117 species, of which 66 are endemic, including Madagascar fish eagles. Over 250 plant species of which 87 percent are endemic.

Parc National de l’Isalo near Ranohira, with unique landscape of sandstone rocks cut by deep canyons, unusual vegetation. Among 55 species of birds are rare Benson’s rockthrush, with 30 species of orchids and 16 species of lemurs, including ringtail and brown lemurs, Verreux’s sifakas.

Parc National de Mananara-Nord is a beautiful U.N. biosphere reserve with several lemurs, notably aye-ayes and hairy-eared dwarfs, and a fine marine park.

Parc National de Montagne d’Ambre, near Ambohitra (Joffreville), with dramatic scenery, interesting birds, best place to see crowned and Sanford’s lemurs. Good trails. Campsite. Hotels in Diego Suarez.

Parc National de Ranomafana--large eastern rain forest with thermal sources. Here are diademed sifakas and many lemurs, including easily-seen red-bellied and red-fronted. This is the only known home of golden bamboo and broad-nosed gentle lemurs. Forests abound with birds, geckos, chameleons, beautiful frogs.

Réserve Privée de Berenty—private reserve with rare gallery forest, offers unusual close range wildlife-viewing, especially of ringtail and brown lemurs, sifakas, and nocturnal lemurs.

Lemurs’ unblinking gaze, said to be the most penetrating and hypnotic of any animal, is the result of a brilliantly reflective retinal tapetum (mirror) plus extra-large corneas that reveal more eye surface than in most other primates. Set side-by-side in a forward-looking facial arrangement, they stimulate a positive response in humans, activating part of our brain cortex that reacts favorably to any facial structure roughly like our own—one reason humans like owls. This is a red-ruffed lemur.

Lemurs’ unblinking gaze, said to be the most penetrating and hypnotic of any animal, is the result of a brilliantly reflective retinal tapetum (mirror) plus extra-large corneas that reveal more eye surface than in most other primates. Set side-by-side in a forward-looking facial arrangement, they stimulate a positive response in humans, activating part of our brain cortex that reacts favorably to any facial structure roughly like our own—one reason humans like owls. This is a red-ruffed lemur.

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MASOALA NATIONAL PARK as well as…

Nosy Mangabe

Parc National d’Andasibe-Mantadia (aka Perinet)

Parc National Andohahela

Parc National Ankarafantsika

Reserve Forestière d’Ampijoroa

Parc National de l’Isalo

Parc National de Mananara-Nord

Parc National de Montagne d’Ambre

Parc National de Ranomafana

Réserve Privée de Berenty

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