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Madagascar lies off the coast of eastAfrica, across the MozambiqueChannel, and straddles the Tropicof Capricorn. Separated from the Africanmainland for some 165 million years, theisland has developed in its own ecologicalniche and today possesses a unique andextremely diverse natural history. About80% of its plants, 40% of its birds andvirtually all of the mammals, reptiles andamphibians occur nowhere else in theworld. It harbours 34 known species ofchameleon (whereas Africa has only nine!),30 lemurs (primates unique to Madagascar)and seven baobabs (Africa has only one).Even now, new species are still beingdiscovered as biological survey workcontinues. Its exceptional biodiversity andthe disturbingly fast pace of environmentaldestruction make Madagascar a worldconservation priority.Madagascar enjoys an extensive network ofprotected areas, most of which are open tovisitors. Park fees go towards maintainingreserves, with some economic benefits tolocal people ensuring that Madagascar'stourist industry provides a good incentive toconserve its valuable ecology.Our holiday begins with a flight toMadagascar's capital, Antananarivo, knowncolloquially as 'Tana'. From here we headsouth through the terraced hillsides of theHauts Plateau to the lush highlandrainforests of Ranomafana National Park,spending one night in Antsirabe en route.Ranomafana is one of Madagascar's mostrecently designated national parks. Herewe hope to see our first lemur speciesranging in size from the large Milne-Edwards Sifaka to the tiny Rufous MouseLemur. If fortunate we may even glimpse aGolden Bamboo Lemur, a species endemicto the park and only discovered in 1986!We are also ensured of a wide variety ofexciting birds which we hope will includeYellow-bellied Sunbird-asity, Rufous-headedGround Roller, Brown Mesite andCrossley's Babbler. We next head south-west, across typicalhigh plateau scenery of rice paddies,villages and smooth granite mountains,known as 'Inselbergs'. We will visit IsaloNational Park, an eroded karstic limestonemassif. Here we will find several species ofthe bizarre Pachypodium('thick foot')plants as well as Benson's Rock Thrushwhich is confined to this site.Moving on, we drive to the coastal town ofTuléar and then complete our journey toAnakao by sea, passing the largest barrierreef in the Indian Ocean en route. We willspend one night at the traditional 'vezo'fishing village of Anakao, from where wewill visit the nearby island of Nosy Ve. Here we can snorkel amongst the coralsand visit a colony of graceful Red-tailedTropicbirds, along with various terns and waders, which occasionally includeCrab Plover.Returning to Tuléar, we head north to Ifaty,our base for the next two nights whilst weexplore Madagascar's dry south-westerndomain, rich in plant-life and with thehighest proportion of endemic plantfamilies in the country. From ourcomfortable beach-front hotel we willexplore the famous Malagasy Spiny Forest,characterised by the cactus-like trees of theDidiereaceaefamily, where we will searchfor the elusive Sub-desert Mesite and thestunning Long-tailed Ground Roller,arguably the most beautiful ofMadagascar's many endemic birds.Next we will take the short flight to FortDauphin on Madagascar's south-easterntip and drive to Berenty, its most famouslemur reserve. Here we will stay for twonights allowing us plenty of time to enjoythe resident troops of Ring-tailed Lemursand the opportunity to see the celebrated'dancing lemurs', the Sifakas of Berenty,which come down to the ground to cross incrab-like hops between the trees. Berentyis also home to a wide variety of otherwildlife and during our stay we will be onthe look out for birds such as MadagascarCuckoo-falcon and MadagascarSparrowhawk and reptiles such as Austalatiand LateralisChameleons and perhaps thelarge Ground Boa. Next we fly north to the coastal town ofMahajanga, from where we transfer toAmpijoroa Forestry Station, part of thelarger Ankarafantsika Nature Reserve, for a2-night stay. The reserve protects some ofMadagascar's very best western dry forestsand is home to the Coquerel's Sifaka, abeautiful silky-white and chestnut lemur,together with Mongoose Lemur, WesternWoolly Lemur and the recently discovered(1998) Golden-brown Mouse Lemur. Birdsare equally plentiful and include Van Dam'sVanga, Schlegel's Asity, White-breastedMesite and the critically endangeredMadagascar Fish Eagle.We end our holiday with three nights atAndasibe (also known as Périnet) and theunforgettable experience of entering theforests at dawn to hear the eerie cries ofthe Indri, the largest and most vocal of thelemurs. We also hope to see this beautifulanimal during our stay, along withDiademed Sifaka, Grey Bamboo Lemur andRed-bellied Lemur. Birdlife is equallyabundant and should include MalagasyPygmy Kingfisher, Red-fronted Coua,Madagascar Wood Rail and Scaly GroundRoller. All these are a supporting cast,however, for they cannot hope to competewith the sound of the Indri at dawn, a fittingfinale to our tour and an experience toremember as we drive back to Tana tocatch our flight home.MadagascarA 23-day wildlife holiday in search of the unusual birds, plants and mammals of the forests of Madagascar.Tuesday 15th October - Wednesday 6th November Cost: £5,995Tuesday 29th October - Wednesday 20th November Cost: £5,995Outline itinerary Day 1 Fly Tana.Day 2 Antsirabe.Day 3/5Ranomafana. Day 6/7Isalo.Day 8 Toliara (Tuléar).Day 9 Anakao.Day 10/11Ifaty.Day 12 Fort Dauphin.Day 13/14Berenty. Day 15 Tana.Day 16/17Ampijoroa. Day 18Mahajanga. Day 19/21Andasibe. Day 22Depart Tana at midnight. Day 23Arrive London.AccommodationThe best hotels and lodgesavailable (some of these are fairlybasic), most with private facilities;camping at Ampijoroa. FoodAll included in the price. GradingGrade B. Day walks only. FocusBirds, mammals and plants. LeaderCathy Harlow, Andy Smith or NickAcheson, plus local guides.Single room supplement £895.Web quick search: MDG01182Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryANTANANARIVO ANDASIBE (PÉRINET RESERVE) FIANARANTSOA RANOMAFANA NATIONAL PARK IHOSY TAOLAGNARO (FORT DAUPHIN) BERENTY NOSY VE ISLAND ANAKAOTOLIARAIFATY ISALONATIONALPARKANTSIRABE MAHAJANGA AMPIJOROA INDIAN OCEAN MADAGASCARCoquerel's SifakaRing-tailed LemurLong-tailed GroundRoller

One hundred and sixty-five millionyears ago the island ofMadagascar was cast adrift. As thehuge super-continent of Gondwanalandsplit apart, this large chunk of Africastarted its slow, inexorable drift out into theIndian Ocean. And so began a uniqueexperiment in evolution. Isolated from therest of the natural world, the Malagasyfauna and flora took their own distinctivepath. Today over 80% of all life here isendemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth.The island is the last refuge of the lemursand such endemic bird families as thevangas, ground rollers and sunbird-asitys.It also supports an exceptional diversity ofstriking reptile species and many uniquehabitats such as the strange 'SpinyForest'. This is truly a land of the weirdand the wonderful. No creature, however,epitomises Madagascar more than thebizarre nocturnal Aye-aye, the scruffylooking lemur with its trademark skeletalmiddle finger, undoubtedly one of themost elusive and sought-after animals onthe island and one of the key goals on thisexciting holiday.Our tour begins with a flight toMadagascar's capital, Antananarivo. From here we take a short flight to thetown of Maroantsetra, gateway to the lushrainforests of the Masoala Peninsula. TheMasoala National Park is the island'slargest rainforest reserve and a strikinglybeautiful place dominated by huge treesdraped in climbers, mosses and otherepiphytes. It is thought to be the richestarea in the country for wildlife and, withmuch of this enormous biodiversity stilllargely unknown to science, who knowswhat we may find! We will certainly be onthe look out, however, for a wide variety ofthe more familiar lemurs -including bothRed-ruffed and White-fronted BrownLemur - and birds such as Red-breastedCoua, Short-legged Ground Roller, thebizarre Helmet Vanga and the rare andelusive Madagascar Serpent Eagle andBernier's Vanga. This will also be our firstopportunity to look for the Aye-aye. We next travel across the Bay of Antongilto the nearby island of Nosy Mangabe,where we camp for two nights. The NosyMangabe Special Reserve wasestablished to protect the Aye-aye,several of which were released here in1966 in an effort to establish a newpopulation and protect this muchmaligned creature from extinction. Theanimals have since flourished and theisland is now one of the few places wherethis bizarre and elusive lemur canoccasionally be seen in the wild. Beingstrictly nocturnal however, we will besearching for them -and such otherdenizens of the night as Brown MouseLemur and the wonderfully camouflagedleaf-tailed gecko -only after dark.During the day we will focus on NosyMangabe's diurnal wildlife, that includesBlack-and-white Ruffed Lemur,Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher andMadagascar Pratincole. Two short flights take us to our nextdestination, the green oasis of theMontagne d'Ambre (Amber Mountain)National Park, located on Madagascar'snorthernmost tip. Here we will stay in acomfortable wildlife lodge, from which wewill explore this lush patch of montanerainforest in search of Sanford's BrownLemur, Mountain Fork-marked Lemur,Crowned Lemur and perhaps even theelusive Fossa, the largest carnivore on theisland. The birdlife here is especiallyabundant and includes the endemicAmber Mountain Rock Thrush, as well asMadagascar Ibis, Souimanga Sunbird,Pitta-like Ground Roller, White-throatedOxylabes and Hook-billed Vanga. Next we move south, to explore the dryforests of the Ankarana Special Reserve.The Ankarana massif is a limestone plateau which rises abruptlyfrom the surroundinggrassy plains. It has beeneroded over the aeons into adramatic landscape of jagged limestonepinnacles, known as tsingy, andnumerous caves and other castelandforms, all edged by a dry deciduousforest. Wildlife here includes CrownedLemur, Sandford's Brown Lemur and birdssuch as Crested Coua, MadagascarPygmy Kingfisher and the localised White-breasted Mesite. After a full and exciting itinerary, weconclude our holiday with a relaxingcouple of nights on the beautiful island ofNosy Be, lying off the northern tip ofMadagascar. From the comfort of ourhotel you may relax on the beach, snorkelin the crystal clear waters or dive on thenearby coral reefs. Keen wildlifeenthusiasts will also enjoy exploring theisland's nature reserves and perhapsconsider crossing to nearby Nosy Komba,home of the confiding Black Lemurs. Nomatter how you decide to fill these finaltwo days, Nosy Be is the perfect spot inwhich to unwind and reflect on our time inMadagascar and the wealth of weird andwonderful creatures that we will no doubthave been privileged to enjoy.Northern Madagascar - In Search of the Aye-ayeA 16-day holiday to the rainforests of northern Madagascar in search of the mysterious and elusive Aye-aye and a wealth of other endemic animals and birds.Sunday 27th October - Monday 11th November Cost: £5,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationANTANANARIVOMASOALANATIONAL PARKMAROANTSETRANOSY MANGABESPECIAL RESERVEANTSIRANANAMONTAGNE D'AMBRE NATIONAL PARKNOSY BEANKARANAINDIAN OCEANMADAGASCARSAMBAVAOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Tana.Day 2Fly Maroantsetra.Day 3/5Masoala National Park.Day 6/7Nosy Mangabe.Day 8Maroantsetra.Day 9Tana.Day 10Montagne d'AmbreNational Park.Day 11/12Ankarana SpecialReserve.Day 13/14Nosy Be.Day 15Depart Tana at midnight.Day 16Arrive London.AccommodationSimple but comfortable hotels andlodges with a mix of private andshared facilities, plus one night ofcamping on Nosy Mangabe. FoodAll included in the price.GradingGrade B/C. The basic nature of theaccommodation, coupled with theheat and humidity, demand a goodlevel of fitness and a sense ofadventure!FocusLemurs, birds and other Malagasywildlife.LeaderAndy Smith.Single room supplement£650.Web quick search: MDG05183Tsingy de Bemaraha Nature ReserveAye-ayeMadagascarPygmy Kingfisher