Back in August we spent four weeks travelling around Madagascar. Our aim was to photograph as much of the Island’s unique wildlife as possible. We had an incredible time and were overwhelmed by the diversity of animal species that we came across.
The Island of Madagascar split away from mainland Africa around 160 million years ago. This isolation created a laboratory in which animals could evolve into weird and wonderful forms in order to fill different ecological niches. Madagascar is now home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species, of which more than 80% are endemic (i.e. they are found nowhere else on Earth).
Madagascar’s fantastic biodiversity is in part due to its highly varied habitats. These range from cool highland rainforests in East to arid deciduous and spiny forests in the West. We started our trip in the lush tropical rainforest of Amber Mountain National Park in the North of Madagascar.
We found that the rainforests were a haven for a large number of Madagascar’s famous chameleons. Almost half the World’s species of chameleon are found in Madagascar and we photographed a variety, ranging from the tiny Brookesia chameleons to the huge Oustalet’s Chameleon.
Brookesia, or leaf-mimicking chameleons, are the smallest chameleons in the World. They live on the ground and hunt tiny insects under the fallen leaves. Since they are only around 2cm long, we found it almost impossible to spot these little critters! Luckily our guide had an uncanny ability to find them on demand!
Of course other reptiles and amphibians were also plentiful in the rainforests. We went on numerous night walks and found some beautiful tree frogs. For the shots below, we worked as a team with one of us using the camera while the other held an off-camera flash pointing into a large white reflector. We used this “forest studio” set-up for almost all of our macro images (including the day shots).
Madagascar also has some beautiful bird life. The first image below is an Amber Mountain Rock Thrush. This bird is only found in one National Park and is an example of how localised much of Madagascar’s wildlife is. Deforestation is a massive problem in Madagascar and many species are threatened by habitat loss.
The second image below is a Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher. This species is closely related to the Malachite Kingfisher of mainland Africa, but it is less dependent on water. We even saw one of these birds catching crabs on the beach!
After the rainforest we drove west for a few hours and found ourselves in the dry deciduous forest of Ankarana National Park. En route we passed some spectacular formations know as “Red Tsingy”. These were carved by erosion and are unique to Madagascar.
The dry deciduous forests were teeming with lots of lovely little snakes and, safe in the knowledge that Madagascar has no dangerous snakes, we spent a long time attempting to get the perfect snake portrait!
Later in the trip, we travelled down to the Southern Coast of Madagascar and for the first couple of days found ourselves in a perpetual storm! Photographing wildlife was difficult so we concentrated on landscapes and plant life.
In search of a moody seascape, we ventured out onto the slippery coastal rocks in the height of the storm. It was dusk, and the clouds were very dark, so we made use of the conditions and took some long exposures of the tumultuous sea. The image below shows the rain in the distance and the sea covering the rocks in front of us.
The area near the town of St. Luce is a boggy marshland and we found that carnivorous pitcher plants covered vast swathes of it! For some reason we find carnivorous plants irresistibly cool, so we happily dedicated an entire afternoon and morning to photographing them!
Last, but not least, we come to the ubiquitous lemurs. These are the true icons of Madagascar and everywhere we went we encountered a wonderful array of lemurs large and small. We will be dedicating an entire blog post to Madagascar’s lemurs so we’ve only included two shots below, one of a Ring-tailed Lemur and one of a Verreaux’s Sifaka (subscribe to our blog via email or RSS if you would like to be notified when we release the rest of our lemur shots).
Wildlife of Madagascar Talk
We could go on forever about the weird and wonderful wildlife of Madagascar and we plan to introduce you to some particularly interesting species in future blog posts. We will also be giving a talk about the wildlife of Madagascar on 24th October 2010 at the London Wetland Centre. You can find out more about the talk on our Facebook event page or on the Wetland Centre website. It will be a great day out and we hope to meet as many of you there as possible!