Jewels of the bamboo forest III
Emmanuel Van Heygen
Ambaliha is a typical Malagasy village with extremely friendly people that are ever curious and inquisitive. We showed one of the children in the village pictures on my iPod of her father that we took in 2004 when he went into the forest with us. Needless to say the entire village was amazed to see some of the villagers on this little iPod-screen.
After a brief stop at the “Chef the Village’s” office to ask permission to go into the mountains, we were finally able to start our ascent. The views were spectacular; in the distance you can see Ankify, Nosy Komba and even the Lokobe Strict Reserve on the island of Nosy Bé.
After a strenuous climb, it was already dark when we arrived at the top of the mountain and were able to erect our camp. Some of the guys carrying part of our equipment went down again to bring up the next load. We were full admiration that they did this exhausting trip twice, carrying the heavy bags, generator and cases, and barefoot.
The next morning we were all well rested and prepared for the next journey downhill on the other side of the mountain into the bamboo forest. A small source nearby provided us with fresh drinking water. Our clothes need a wash too after several days in the jungle, Nazir took care of this while we explored the environment. On the way down we met many people, all carrying something. This was a major trading path, where people from the inland region traded wood and rice for fish with the villagers from the coastal area.
High in these mountains most of the forest is still intact and wildlife is still abundant. We found many animals in a short span of time, such as plated lizards, snakes and even leaf-tailed geckos. The Madagascar plated lizard, Zonosaurus madagascariensis, is very common on the peninsula. Dromicodryas bernieri is a mainly terrestrial and diurnal snake with a round pupil. Madagascarophis colubrinus on the contrary is a nocturnal species with a clearly vertical pupil. This species of the genus Madagascarophis are among the most common Malagasy snakes. They are mostly terrestrial but can often be found climbing. Frogs, skinks, geckos, chameleons and also snakes and birds are among the prey items.
Uroplatus henkeli is actually widespread, although they generally have fragmented ranges. Uroplatus species or Leaf-tailed Geckos are very distinctive lizards and endemic to Madagascar. They are nocturnal and found in a range of forest habitats. All species are undoubtedly affected by ongoing forest loss in Madagascar. Whilst some species can apparently tolerate some degree of habitat degradation, they are reportedly generally found in secondary habitats in low densities only.
Once we reached the bamboo forests, we were again stunned by the density of day geckos. In the internal bamboo forests of the Ampasindava peninsular, Phelsuma vanheygeni is very common. It shares its habitat with Phelsuma klemmeri, Phelsuma seippi, Phelsuma laticauda and the bigger Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis. Phelsuma vanheygeni is one of the smaller day gecko species that is well adapted to living in bamboo. It is a taxonomically isolated species and has no closely related species within the genus. Also here we found Furcifer pardalis, the typical color morph on the Ampasinadava Peninsula, the Pink Panther. Spectacular color variations and subtle shape variations of the head in males in specific populations seem to exhibit a gradient between different regions and have been used to differentiate areas of origin. Subspecies have not been formally defined but more detailed study including genetic variation may reveal distinct populations in the near future. The Panther Chameleon is indigenous to the warm and humid regions of northern, north-western, north-eastern, and eastern Madagascar. It is one of the most common species on Madagascar. Cuvier first described this highly sexually dimorphic species in 1829. The larger mature males can reach a total body length of up to 50 cm.
In the vicinity of a small brook we discovered a Paroedura oviceps. In contrast to most Malagasy geckos, Paroedura species lead a mainly terrestrial life. It is a nocturnal gecko spending the daytime hours under bark of dead trees. The descent back to the coast was somewhat easier, probably facilitated by the spectacular view. When we arrived back near the village, the water was already so high that we had to walk through several tidal creeks to reach the boat with all the gear. Through the mangroves we set course to cross the Ampasinadava bay towards the town of Djangoa.
When we arrived at the Djangoa River, the water was already withdrawing rapidly, making it difficult to go upstream. Finally we found ourselves stranded at Djangoa, a town where the “Route National 6”, one of Madagascar’s main roads, crosses the Djangoa River. Djangoa is a small town with a mosque and many other stone buildings. People are, as everywhere in Madagascar, helpful and friendly. One family even invited us even to see their tamed pet black lemur. Somewhat sad, but apparently the animal, an Eulemur macaco, was well taken care of.
We crossed the river over the bridge to set up camp on the northern bank of the river, near a bamboo forest. On the riverbank we found a juvenile mud turtle, Pelusios castanoides. Although crocodiles were common according to the villagers, the river offered great refreshment and an opportunity to wash off days of jungle dirt and sweat. This campsite was definitely the best so far.
The highlight of this expedition was definitely the discovery of Phelsuma vanheygeni in the bamboo forests here. This is the first record of these recently discovered day geckos off of the Ampasindava Peninsula and so close to a main road, a road that has been used by many researchers on their way to Ambanja or Antananarivo. It was a very dense and healthy population since we recorded several specimens in a relatively short timespan. Phelsuma klemmeri could not be found here.
Near the campsite another Furcifer pardalis was sighted and again it was the “Pink Panther” or Ankaramy morph. The original location of this colour morph, Ankaramy, is just 30 km further to the south on the RN 6. Only one young male was found.
While examining a dead tree we found several beetles. Two of them were a pair of mating mango tree borers, Batocera rufomaculata. The beetles are considered a pest in many tropical countries since they lay their eggs in fruit trees like mango trees. The damage is caused by the grub of this beetle as it feeds inside the stems boring upward, resulting in branches dying. In severe cases the stem also dies. On the same tree we also documented a Geckolepis maculata which we tried to chase out of its hiding place. While loading our equipment in the boat, we spotted a Zonosaurus laticaudatus basking on the riverbank. A little further on we caught an impressive Hoplobatrachus tigerinus. This giant semi-aquatic frog measuring 170 mm, is the only frog that is not native to Madagascar. It was introduced by the Chinese in the Mahajanga region, the exact origin of the frogs is unknown.
We now sailed back full speed to Ambatoloaka on Nosy Bé. The next day we had to catch a plane to the Comoro Island, Mayotte. Entering the airport, and an airplane was an abrupt end to our weeks in the uncivilized jungles of the Ampasindava Peninsula.
Emmanuel Van Heygen
“Once we reached the bamboo forests, we were again stunned by the density of day geckos. In the internal bamboo forests of the Ampasindava peninsular, Phelsuma vanheygeni is very common. It shares its habitat with Phelsuma klemmeri, Phelsuma seippi, Phelsuma laticauda and the bigger Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis.”
Madagascar, the land of mystique and wonder, has always been revered for its unparalleled biodiversity. Every step on this island is a testament to nature's grandeur. And there, in the midst of the towering bamboo of Ampisindava, was our stage, where nature's drama would unfold.
The day's adventures guided us from Ankify to Ampopo, along the shores of the Ampasindava Peninsula. As we approached, dolphins frolicked near our boat, offering a spectacle of nature's dance. The evening saw us under the open skies of Ampopo's virgin beach, with a crackling campfire warding off nature's nocturnal visitors.
With camp set up, our scientific endeavors began with the creation of pitfall traps to capture ground-dwelling reptiles and amphibians. Though a single tiny frog was all that was caught, the surrounding bamboo forests held more surprises.
Achim Lerner's initial description of Phelsuma vanheygeni in the 'Phelsuma' journal, courtesy of the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.
The Exo Terra expedition left Paris for one of the remotest and inhospitable parts of the ‘Red Island’: Madagascar. It took the expedition team four flights, a 10-hour ocean trip and several hours by pirogue through the natural canals of the dense mangrove forests to finally install the first campsite. Although it was supposed to be the dry season, it wasn’t. Tents had to be erected in the pouring rain, and the team’s equipment was drenched. With everything soaked, the inside-out tent’s only remaining purpose was protection against the millions of biting mosquitoes. Madagascar is one of the world’s high-risk areas for Malaria, a mosquito-transmitted and often fatal disease.
Stay up on all things exo terra.
"*" indicates required fields