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The island of Madagascar straddlesthe tropic of Capricorn approximately400 kilometres off the east coast ofAfrica, across the Mozambique Channel. Aformer French colony until the 1960s, it isthe fourth largest island in the world andtwo and a half times the size of GreatBritain. The island is thought to haveseparated from the 'Dark Continent' about160 million years ago when the prehistoricsuper-continent, Gondwanaland, began tosplit apart. Today, Madagascar is home toan outstanding range of habitats, from thelush rainforests of the east coast to the drycentral uplands and low-lying SpinyForests of the south-west, and a trulyunique natural history which we willdiscover and enjoy on this holiday. Ourprimary focus, though, will be on theisland's flora; this includes over 12,000species of plant, of which 9,600 areendemic! For example, six of the world'seight species of baobabs ('Upside DownTrees') are endemic to Madagascar, four ofwhich we stand a good chance of finding.There are 40 species of endemic aloesand over 1,000 species of orchid, 85% ofwhich are endemic. Mention must also bemade of the bizarre thorn-coveredDidiereaceae, perhaps the most intriguingplants of all and a totally endemic familythat occurs nowhere else on Earth!This unusual and pioneering holidaybegins with a flight to Antananarivo, theMalagasy capital, known locally as 'Tana'.Here we spend our first night before flyingon to Toliara (Tuléar) on the south-westerncoast of the island. A short drive will bringus to the coastal community of Ifaty for a2-night stay. Our main target here will bethe Spiny Forest, a fascinating and bizarreecosystem dominated by a unique familyof trees, the endemic Didiereaceae.Through the tangle of thorns and brancheswe should be able to pick out the shape ofthe curious multi-branched Octopus Tree(Didierea madagascariensis) whose trunkscurve to grow into the prevailing southerlywind, and the tall thorny trunk of theSongo-be (Alluaudia ascendens) whichcan reach 15 metres in height. Known locally as 'Ala Maiky', the Spiny Forestenjoys a maximum of only 610 millimetresof rain a year, but supports anextraordinary range of plants and otherwildlife, including such birds as thebeautiful Long-tailed Ground Roller andSub-desert Mesite. We next head north-east to Isalo NationalPark, located on Madagascar's high anddry central plateau, breaking the journeywith a visit to the dry western forests of theZombitse Reserve. Isalo National Park isrenowned for its bizarre sandstonelandscape of canyons, rocky pillars andother extraordinary wind-sculpted shapes.These outcrops are of particular spiritualsignificance to the local Bara tribe and thecaves and rock walls house numerousburial sites and tombs. This park is hometo the endemic Tapia trees (Uapaca bojeri),and the bizarre rock-clinging Pachypodiumrosulatum, also known as the Elephant'sFoot. In addition, we hope to find yetanother endemic, the Isalo Aloe (Aloeisaloensis), along with Feather Palm(Chrysalidocarpus isaloensis), DwarfBaobab (Adansonia rubrostipa) and birdssuch as Reunion Harrier and Benson'sRock Thrush.Retracing our steps back to Toliara, wenext fly to Fort Dauphin on the south-eastern coast of the island. From here wetransfer to the privately owned BerentyReserve for a 2-night stay. Established bythe D'Heaulme family, this 260-hectarereserve protects a mix of Spiny Forest andimpressive Tamarind Gallery Forest. Thebotany is certainly fascinating, but here wecan also enjoy another endemic Malagasyfamily, the endearing lemurs. Berenty isworld famous for its confiding troops ofRing-tailed Lemurs and Verreaux's Sifakas;indeed the Ring-tailed Lemurs in particularare sure to be our daytime companions aswe explore the network of trails thatprovide access through the reserve. Night-time forays may also yield one or twonocturnal species such as Grey MouseLemur and White-footed Sportive Lemur.On the return journey to Fort Dauphin wewill stop to see the Three-cornered Palm,insectivorous pitcher plants and a varietyof plants to be found in the lowlandrainforest and transitional forest to thewest of the town. For our final two nights we catch a returnflight to Tana and then transfer east to therainforests of Andasibe. The lush forestshere are extremely rich in endemic orchidand palm species, but are also home tothe beautiful Indri, the largest and mostvocal of the lemurs. Before embarking onour botanical walks we will visit the forestsearly one morning to hear the Indri sing, a mesmerising and haunting sound that is sure to remain with us long after wehave returned to Tana for our overnightflight home. Madagascar's Endemic FloraA pioneering 14-day botany holiday to Madagascar in search of the island's endemic flora and other unique wildlife.Sunday 22nd September - Saturday 5th October Cost: £4,595Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Tana.Day 2/3Ifaty.Day 4/5Isalo National Park.Day 6Toliara (Tuléar).Day 7/8Berenty.Day 9/10Fort Dauphin.Day 11/12Andasibe (Périnet).Day 13Depart Tana at midnight.Day 14Arrive London.AccommodationSimple but comfortable hotels andeco-lodges. All rooms have privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade A/B. Easy to moderate daywalks only.FocusPlants (primarily), though lemurs,birds and other wildlife will also beenjoyed.LeaderPaul Harmes, plus local guide.Single room supplement£595.Web quick search: MDG02180Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryANTANANARIVOANDASIBE(PÉRINET RESERVE)RANOMAFANANATIONAL PARKTAOLAGNARO (FORT DAUPHIN)BERENTYNOSY VEISLANDTOLIARAIFATYISALONATIONALPARKINDIAN OCEANMADAGASCARIndriRainforest OrchidsBottle Baobab, Ifaty Forest

One hundred and sixty-five millionyears ago the huge prehistoricsuper-continent of Gondwanalandbegan to break up. As the new continentsembarked on their slow, inexorable driftstowards their present locations, the islandof Madagascar was left isolated in an ever-widening ocean. This isolation allowed theisland's prehistoric fauna and flora freerein to evolve in their own unique way and,today, over 80% of all Malagasy wildlife isendemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth. Perhaps the most familiar, and endearing,of these endemic creatures are the lemurs,one of the very first primate families toevolve and one that is now restricted toMadagascar. This 14-day tour focuses onthem (offering an alternative to our popularand successful 23-day tour), and will takeyou lemur-watching in several of theisland's very best wildlife reserves,including Isalo, Ranomafana, Andasibeand the bizarre spiny deserts around Ifaty.Whilst the lemurs will no doubt take centrestage, you can be assured that thesupporting cast of birds, reptiles and otherwildlife will not be ignored. Our holiday begins with a flight toMadagascar's capital, Antananarivo,known colloquially as 'Tana'. From here wehead south through the terraced hillsidesof the Hauts Plateaux to the lush highlandrainforests of Ranomafana National Park,spending one night in Antsirabe en route.Ranomafana is a beautiful mountainousreserve enveloped in lush rainforest. Thisis one of Madagascar's newest nationalparks, established to protect the rareGolden Bamboo Lemur and its closecousin the Greater Bamboo Lemur. We willbe based here for three nights whilst weexplore the network of forest trails insearch of a wide variety of lemurs andother wildlife. Species to look out forinclude the beautiful Milne-EdwardsSifaka, plus Red-bellied and Red-frontedBrown Lemurs, Lesser Bamboo Lemur, thenocturnal Eastern Woolly Lemur and, iffortunate, maybe even the rare GoldenBamboo and Greater Bamboo Lemursthemselves. This is also a great place tosearch for the wonderfully camouflagedleaf-tailed geckos together with a variety ofchameleons and other reptiles. Birds tolook out for include Pitta-like GroundRoller, Brown Mesite, Pollen's Vanga andYellow-bellied Sunbird-asity. From Ranomafana we continue south tothe sandstone massif of Isalo, stopping onthe way at the small reserve of Anja toenjoy the troops of Ring-tailed Lemurs thatlive there. The Isalo massif has beenfashioned by the wind and the rain intospectacular gorges and gullies. Fringingwoodland at the foot of the massif is hometo Verreaux's Sifakas and Ring-tailedLemurs, whilst in the dry rocky hillsidesthat span into the surrounding countrysidethe bizarre Pachypodium roselatum('Elephant's Foot') and other unique plantsmay be found. En route to Ifaty we will stop at ZombitseNational Park, home to Hubbard's SportiveLemur and a variety of birds that includesthe endemic Appert's Greenbul. Once onthe coast we will spend two nights at Ifatyto give us the time to exploreMadagascar's most unique habitat, thespiny desert. Here huge Bottle Baobabsand bizarre 'Octopus trees' create afascinating habitat that is home to GreyMouse Lemurs and the beautiful Long-tailed Ground Roller. For our grand finale we journey back toTana and then east to the rainforestreserves of Andasibe (Mantadia andAnalamazaotra). Here we will enter theforests at dawn to listen to the eerie criesof the beautiful Indri, the largest and mostvocal of the lemurs. It is a trulymesmerising experience to stand in theforest at first light listening to the differentIndri families calling to one another fromthe tree-tops, a sound which, once heard,is never forgotten. We will spend threenights at Andasibe to fully appreciate thesight and sound of the Indri, and the otherlemur species present; these are likely toinclude Brown Lemur, Black-and-WhiteRuffed Lemur and Diademed Sifaka, and,if very fortunate, we may even catch aglimpse of the bizarre Aye-aye. Althoughsightings of this nocturnal lemur are on theincrease, and past Naturetrek groups havebeen lucky, Aye-ayes are still a rare andvery fortunate treat! We are sure to findplenty of birds, however, including Red-fronted Coua, Malagasy Pygmy Kingfisher,Rufous-headed and Scaly-legged GroundRollers and Velvet Asity, plus a range ofreptiles that could include such species asParson's Chameleon, BrevicornisChameleon or perhaps a Ground Boa. With the plaintive cries of the Indri stillfresh in our minds, we must reluctantlyreturn to Tana for our early morning flightback to London, leaving the uniquecreatures of this lost world far behind andreturning to the more familiar wildlife ofhome.Madagascar's LemursA 14-day holiday to the island of Madagascar in search of lemurs, birds and other special wildlife.Sunday 29th September - Saturday 12th October Cost: £3,895Sunday 6th October - Saturday 19th October Cost: £3,895Sunday 13th October - Saturday 26th October Cost: £3,895Sunday 20th October - Saturday 2nd November Cost: £3,895Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationANTANANARIVOANDASIBE(PÉRINET RESERVE)RANOMAFANANATIONAL PARKTAOLAGNARO (FORT DAUPHIN)BERENTYNOSY VEISLANDTULEARISALONATIONALPARKANTSIRABEINDIAN OCEANMADAGASCARIFATYFIANARANTSOAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tana.Day 2Antsirabe.Day 3/5Ranomafana.Day 6/7Isalo.Day 8/9Ifaty.Day 10/12Andasibe.Day 13Depart Tana at midnight.Day 14Arrive London.AccommodationSimple but comfortable hotels andeco-lodges. All rooms have privatefacilities. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B. Easy to moderate daywalks only.FocusLemurs, other mammals and birds.LeaderCathy Harlow, Tony Williams, NickAcheson or Andy Harding.Single room supplement£550.Web quick search: MDG04181Diademed SifakaGrey Mouse Lemurs