Lemurs were definitely on the list of animals to see before old age managed to dissuade further wildlife watching, and of course there is only one place to see this enigmatic family - Madagascar. One major problem when planning a two week (only) trip to this very large island is that they are distributed widely, and so a certain amount of planning needs to be had just to narrow down the few locations which can be covered. A known concern within the island is the amount of logging which has taken place, leaving more and more remnants only for the wildlife to live within. A close look at distribution maps for many of the species is frightening and worrying. There is a patchwork distribution for many of the 100+ species to begin with, since they do have many varied and specific habitats, with a general divide of wet and hot forests in the East, and dry in the West. The removal of the majority of the forests has further exacerbated this, leaving numerous species with remnant and localised distributions.
Another concern we had was the unstable nature of the country, specifically since the coup of 2009. Two of the main outcomes of this were the lack of control on illegal logging, which had been bad before this anyway, and the presence of some now much more dangerous areas. We checked up on the FCO website when planning, and found that this was mainly in specific locations in the South, which we would be avoiding. However, it is worth noting that the capital of Tana remains volatile, particularly at night, when apparently it is even dangerous for many of the locals to wander about.
We had an idea of where we wanted to head by looking at one or two of the travel sites. This seemed to include the Andasibe/Mantadia location as a must, and this was certainly borne out, and then to move further East to a place called Ankaniníny Nofy, staying at the Palmarium Hotel which can only be reached by boat. We enlisted the employ of Gane & Marshall, since they seemed to have a lot of experience in organising tailor made holidays, and also Madagascar "experts" in their staff. All seemed very well organised until we reached the Palmarium. Andasibe and its environs (the Andasibe Hotel was excellent in all respects, with a brilliant offering of lemurs, birds, reptiles and even insects on the doorstep) were superb, but we had left much of the description of the latter hotel to the travel company. Highlighted was the lemurs being "not tame", but in practice they had all been imported on to the island, were then free roaming, but tended mainly to hang around the accommodation, with staff enticing them down with bananas and encouraging them to "perform", with a favourite being taking food from the mouth of the guide. For various reasons, we decided to cut the holiday short, since this was not what we had paid for, and found Gane & Marshall to be sadly abrasive, with an email which stated "We have not yet put through your card payment and we will only do so on receiving email confirmation from you that you will not be seeking any refund of these flight costs". I could NOT recommend anyone to use them based on this attitude, and also not delivering on a WILDlife experience. Even worse, there were one or two interesting birds (literally) in the area, but numbered even less than the total I enjoyed when watching from the windows of Nairobi airport. A big recommendation for binoculars here by the way, the list of birds specifically seen within the airport at the end of the report is a huge bonus, and that is not to mention the Giraffe and Zebra which can be seen from the taxiing plane and the terminal (although they are in a park and can't be counted as truly wild).
Our transportation around the island was prearranged and varied. We were driven by 4x4 from Tana to Andasibe, and then to a boat dock for water transport to Ankaniníny Nofy. The 4x4 was useful, since even the main East West road was poor in places, and the driver also a benefit since some of the directions weren't easy, and with more or less non existent road signs . . ! The people we met were as one extremely helpful and friendly, with only small signs of the dreaded tipping plague! Electricity was usually available, although there was the odd outage, and the plugs were of standard European style. We were told to take Euros as currency, but did the right thing by changing to Malagasy Ariaria the morning after we landed. Best rates are supposed to be at banks in town, but we were there on a Sunday, and worst rates at the hotels. Getting used to an exchange rate of 2850 to the £GB isn't easy - even carrying around a few £'s worth looks like a fortune! Insect pests are also present, as is the threat of malaria, so prevention is necessary. Mosquitoes are more prevalent in the forests, and we did come across leaches in one part of Mantadia.