Day 12 Zombitse NP

Day 12    10/20      A visit to Zombitse National Park 

After breakfast we departed the hotel, but not before our tour operator gave the group an earful about him having had to pay $80 for water.  Apparently that was not acceptable and we were asked to take bottles only while in the field and to take them only from our respective cars.  This worked well in theory – until water started running out in one car and then it was on to the other two cars and so on.    Later that morning our own experience proved this point when we started looking for water.  We did not find any bottles in our car so went to another car only to be scolded by the tour operator who told us to go get water from our car.  Given the lack of water in our car, a minor argument ensued and in the end we were allowed to get water from a different car.

As we left the hotel we passed by a Tropic of Capricorn sign- the hotel had been just outside the tropics, and we were now re-entering the tropics for the remainder of the trip.

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10.1  Rosario at the Tropic of Capricorn near Tulear.

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10.2  Our driver taking the bull by the horns


10.3  We passed small towns on the way to Zombitse National Park.


10.4  The paved road crossed the forested area of Zombitse for only about 3 km – it is deforested on both sides of the park (the forest disappears on the hill in the distance).

By noontime we had arrived at Zombitse National Park, an area with short dry forest, which turned out to be a nice place for a walk. We had our lunch at a picnic area while enjoying the resident Giant Coua parading around the picnic tables.  After lunch our tour operator hired a local guide at the park headquarters and we started our guided tour.


  10.5  Entrance to Zombitse National Park.

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10.6  A Giant Coua (Coua gigas) visited the picnic area where we had lunch.


10.7  Vehicles can park along the main road passing through the park.  There is also parking near the headquarters off the road.

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10.8  Map of the National Park areas (light green polygons) and the forested area in the region, which is larger.  The reasons for the forest “patchiness” are unclear and appear unrelated to climate or topographic details.

Next to the main road, as we were starting our walk, we spotted Verreaux Sifakas eating flower buds in the trees. See more about these lemurs here.

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10.9  Verreaux’s Sifaka.

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10.10  This was a high contrast photo so I (Mike) played with it in grayscale rather than color and brightened his (its) face a bit to see better.

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10.11  Interesting facial “expression”.  Note the long nose characteristic of lemurs who possess a keen sense of smell (not the case with monkeys).


10.12  Crossing the paved road we are now starting our walk.

As we started our walk our guide saw and pointed out a Spear-nosed Snake (Langaha madagascariensis).


10.13  A spear-nosed Snake (Langaha madagascariensis) – a difficult subject to focus on quickly.  One disadvantage of tours is that with subjects like this, everyone wants to get close for a photo!

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10.14  Tour members  and the guide.

Later on during our walk we saw a Sportive  Lemur and a nocturnal gecko.  We also spotted a group of Verreaux’s Sifakas near the trail.

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10.15  Everyone wants a shot of the sifakas.


10.16  A Sportive Lemur.  It wasn’t that close – this is a telephoto shot.


10.17  A nocturnal gecko – it was on the side of a tree trunk and was difficult to expose for with the strong contrast.

Some of the plants we saw during the hike were:  Adenia spp, Kalanchoe daigremontiana, several orchids, Adansonia za, Euphorbias, Uncarina decaryi and Aloe vaombe.


10.18  Rosario next to an Aloe.  This aloe and the next photos of the Uncarina and the arborescent Euphorbia with flattish leaves were taken at a stop inside Zombitse, but just before we stopped at the park headquarters.  They apparently do well in full sun.  I don’t remember seeing them inside the forest proper.


10.19  Uncarina decaryi with Kalanchoe daigremontiana at its base


10.20  Closer view of the Uncarina decaryi flowers.


Kalanchoe daigremontiana

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10.22  Euphorbia entenophora.


10.23  A closer view of Euphorbia entenophora.

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10.24  Adansonia za

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a large double-trunked Adansonia za along the trail


10.25  An orchid with flowers, genus Aerangis.

Orchids are an interesting component of the vegetation in Madagascar and they occur in many habitats.  Although most are found in the humid forests, others grow exposed on rocks and yet others are found in the dry forest.

Madagascar and Reunion are known worldwide as vanilla extract-producing countries and this is an important crop for their economies.   The Vanilla extract is obtained from the seed pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia.    Of the 110 species in the genus Vanilla about 10 are found in Madagascar, but the vanilla-producing orchid (Vanilla planifolia) is not originally native to this part of the world.  The vanilla-producing orchid is native to Mesoamerica, specifically southern Mexico and Central America.  It was taken to Europe by the Spaniards and then to Madagascar and Reunion by the French in the 19th century and for some reason it became a very important crop for this area.  Today, although vanilla is still produced in Mexico, it is not as important a crop as it is in Madagascar and it is much less sought after than the now-famous “Madagascar vanilla”.   Interestingly, though people took the vanilla orchid to another part of the world, they did not take the pollinators (a species of Melipona bee), thus the orchids that produce vanilla in Reunion and Madagascar have to be hand-pollinated.  Perhaps this explains why vanilla from these areas is expensive compared to the inexpensive vanilla you can buy in Mexico.  You can read more about vanilla here.


10.26  Closer view of the flower.

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10.27   Another orchid

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10.28   An unknown (to us) caudiciform


10.29  Our hike through the Zombitse forest, as indicated by GPS photo positions.

After the Zombitse walk it was time to head for the famous Relais de la Reine hotel near Isalo National Park.  On the way we passed a busy town where the main business was the sale of sapphires.


10.30  Approaching the “sapphire town”


10.31  The streets were busy.


10.32  A common sight, young women with children.

On the way to the hotel we also went through nice examples of Madagascar palm savanna.  Scenic hills and grasses mixed in with the beautiful blue palms Bismarckia nobilis.  The genus is named after the first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck.   This genus is endemic to Madagascar.  The palm flora of the island is diverse, with about 170 species of which 165 are endemic.  Unfortunately many Madagascar palms are endangered.


10.33  Palm savanna with the endemic palm Bismarckia nobilis.


10.34  Bismarckia nobilis.


10.35  Bismarckia nobilis.

We finally made it to the hotel and after waiting to have the hotel and tour operator figure out the details of dealing with the lack of a room for him and TV in the main hotel, we finally got our keys and dispersed.   There was only time for a quick trip to the pool and a brief peak at the grounds.   The hotel was situated amongst large sandstone hills and the grounds were nice.  There were some succulents growing on the rocks.


10.36  Arriving at our hotel.


10.37  Impressive grounds at the hotel.


10.38  The pool.  The water was a bit cold.

Dinner at the hotel consisted of a fixed menu where you choose from a couple of options for appetizers, main course etc.  In spite of all the expectations (our tour operator had mentioned that this hotel would have the best food in the trip) I was not all that impressed with the food.

Continue to day 13 “Isalo National Park”