Indian Ocean Expedition

JBL Indian Ocean Expedition 2018

To the geckos and chameleons in the jungle of Madagascar

From Nosy Be the plane unfortunately took off much too late and made a small unplanned stopover in the middle of nowhere, before landing after sunset in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. The cars that were supposed to take us to the hotel in the city centre weren’t really allowed to drive after sunset. Muggings are so common as to be more or less expected. But as our mini convoy of five black SUVs looked like an FBI vehicle convoy, we arrived at the hotel unharmed. The next morning we quickly realized why the streets of Madagascar's capital were among the most dangerous in the world. The poverty was obvious. Many people had slept on the street directly opposite the hotel entrance. Some had built themselves a temporary place to stay from cardboard boxes because at night it became painfully cold in the 1100 m high situated city with 1.8 million inhabitants.

Some of us spontaneously began to share their food supplies to the people in front of our hotel, and as a result we experienced some really nice encounters with the poorest of the poor.

Some of us didn't feel well at all. They had clearly picked up something and commuted back and forth between toilet and washbasin. We tried to buy some useful medicines from a pharmacy, before we left the capital in our cars, out over countryside towards to the easterly situated national parks.

After about four hours drive we reached the region of Andasibe, where a lot of national parks lie side by side. Right away in the car park at the entrance of the first park, we discovered various lizards, insects and spiders. It’s always the same. As soon as our people leave the cars, they swarm out like bees to search for animals. Then it gets really hard to catch them all again and persuade them to progress in an orderly way. Our local guides began to get nervous as you’re not allowed to enter the parks after dark. We finally entered the rainforest at a speed that would have challenged even a Kenyan marathon runner. Nobody had time to look right or left, let alone to search for animals or to take pictures. We were more concerned with not getting lost, because otherwise we wouldn’t have found our way back to the parking area!

The only stop the guide made was provoked by lemurs, the famous prosimians of Madagascar. He knew a place where these animals could be seen. With the part of our troop that could still walk upright, he climbed down a steep slope to approach the animals. I stayed back with a few other exhausted people and we found two prosimians right next to the path. They could easily be photographed from only 50 cm distance, while our decathletes and the guide found prosimians high up in the trees from a distance of 10 m.

After we all arrived at the car park without having lost anyone, we had a serious talk with the guide. We didn’t want a continuation of this jungle marathon the next day and we tried again to explain to the guide what our goal was. To have time to search for animals, to analyse biotopes and to take photos. Not to run around too much, and ideally to find a place with water. But first we drove to the lodge, which was to become our home for the next three days.

The lodge was ideally located: far away from the next road and right next to a national park. That gave us reason to hope we’d meet quite a few interesting animals there after sunset.

After sunset we armed ourselves with headlamps, cameras and flashes. Judging by the loud croaking, there had to be a lot of frogs. We searched bushes, trees and ground and found what we were looking for. Interesting insects, plenty of frog species and also chameleons were there to be found without leaving the grounds of the lodge.

The next morning we started the second attempt with our Madagascan marathon fetishist. And behold, the distance shrunk to a mere half marathon and a stream served us as orientation, so that it didn't matter if our guide in the jungle disappeared in front of us.

At a mini waterfall there was a small pool where we could snorkel and take underwater photos. Our finds were a fish species, plenty of tadpoles and a very nice snail species. In the water it was quite fresh at 24.2 °C without a diving suit. The water values were typical for a large number of tropical regions: pH 6.5, no measurable general and carbonate hardness, but a conductivity of 36 µS/cm. This showed that no calcium or magnesium was dissolved in the water, but that other salts were present.

In the rainforest itself there were not many animals to discover. Only skinks (Zonosaurus karsteni) were frequently sighted. Shortly before reaching the cars there were once again lemurs in the trees, happily waiting to be photographed.

We were not really happy with our "crawling animals” finds, because Madagascar is known for its wealth of chameleons and geckos. Our marathon guide promised us better results for the next day.

The next day we drove to another national park and miraculously, sitting in every tree, we found a different chameleon species.

We can't prove it, but we did suspect the guides had planted the animals right before our arrival and then collected them again afterwards. There was even a snake with head injuries which was probably beaten up at the hands of the guides.

While the guides weren’t looking, we released the snake into the bush, and hoped that it would recover from its injuries. Fortunately, without the help of our guides, we found one of the two Boa species (Sanzinia madagascariensis) and a snake (Thamnosophis infrasignatus - thanks to Kathrin Glaw for the identification).

JBL boss Roland Böhme had a very emotional encounter with a creature only two centimetres long and just as tall. Roland's father, JBL founder Joachim Böhme and beetle expert, wanted to see exactly this beetle, endemic to Madagascar, alive. The giraffe weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa). He was not granted this wish, but his son was now able to meet this extraordinary animal.

We were very happy about the nature, but very disappointed with the guides. It's a shame that as a visitor you ALWAYS have to book a guide, whether you like it or not. The biotope investigations yielded a lot of interesting data: The air temperature fluctuated between 20 °C at night until 6:30 in the morning and a maximum of 29.4 °C at 12:30 at noon. The humidity was between 60 % at noon and 96 % in the evening.

Surface temperature measurements on wood and plants were also very instructive for terrarium keeping, because we often generate enormous heat with our lamps and sometimes do not know how far terrariums should cool down at night. With infrared measuring instruments we measured the surfaces every hour and found wood temperatures between 18 and 26.2 °C at noon. The temperatures of the plant leaves we measured were between 19.2 (09:30) and 26.2 °C at 13:30, and corresponded thus approximately to the temperatures of the wood.

At the end of our stay in Madagascar we wanted to experience the lemurs again in their diversity and to get really close to them. About 100 species have been described so far. We were able to do this in a lemur park, on which different species live on accessible islands, and so experienced these cute prosimians very close up.

Monkeys and prosimians undisturbed

In the lemur park you can get very close to the lemurs. They are extremely curious and feed-oriented. This is not significant from a biological point of view, but it’s a really nice experience. Since the prosimians live freely on wooded islands, it isn’t detrimental to the animals.

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