There is a forest surrounded by other worldly limestone formations in a remote corner of western Madagascar. Many of the creatures found there are found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar has always been one of the world’s most unique and bizarre bio diversity hotspots. Few understand that some of this extreme endemism doesn’t only reference the whole island but sometimes just a single river, lake or forest.
Western Madagascar is the most African looking of the varied landscapes. It is covered with dry deciduous forest reminiscent of those found in Mozambique and southern Tanzania and studded with unusual looking Baobabs…three of the six varieties endemic to Madagascar. The rivers support Nile Crocodile. The local tribespeople…the Sakalava…one of several Malagasy ethnicities…are the most African in terms of physical features and cultural practice. They ply the waterways of the Tsihibirinha and other notable rivers fishing and trading with other villagers, up and down stream, by way of dugout canoe. The scenery here could be a snapshot from almost anywhere in sub-tropical continental Africa. One half expects an elephant to emerge at any moment from the reedbeds along the river bank or a herd of antelope to drift, grazing across a grassy forest verge.
Except there is none of this…no indigenous ungulates…no elephant or lion. The mammals are entirely different. The primates specifically are a group found only in Madagascar and represented by more than 100 varieties. The Lemurs. These strange creatures have incredible diversity of shape, size and behaviour from the tiniest nocturnal Mouse Lemur to the huge and brazenly diurnal Indri.
One of the most magnificent of the Lemur families are the large and monkey-like Sifakas. They are diurnal and very vocal canopy dwellers of the various forest types found on the island. They are incredibly habitat specific and in the case of one particular species…Decken’s Sifaka…confined to just one forest patch only…adjacent to the limestone “tsingys” near the town of Bekopaka.
There is something disturbingly primordial about walking through the forest reserve at Tsingy Bemaraha surrounded by the chattering of various forest birds and insects and listening to the hooting cacophony from the canopy above…the contact calls of a troop of Sifakas…the result of niche specialised evolution that culminated in one species inhabiting just one forest on a chunk of Gondwanaland that broke away from Africa at the very dawn of time.