Fossas need love too (Mostly Kirindy)

November 17, 2010

On Wednesday morning, the 10th of November, I knew three things:

  1. The fossa mating frenzy was a big event that I would be a fool to miss.  My worry was that the film crews would be occupying all of Kirindy's limited accommodation.
  2. Taxi-brousse's do not travel at night and Moradavo was about nine hours away.  Thus, I needed to get to the taxi-brousse stand early in the morning.
  3. Morondavo is West of Antsirabe so the taxi-brousse would most logically leave from the West taxi-brousse station.

When 4:00pm rolled around, I was standing at the North taxi-brousse station waiting to board an overnight taxi-brousse for Morandavo.  I was concerned but encountered no obvious bandit activity:  Just the usual physical discomfort and sleep deprivation.

Image of six-wheeled taxi-brousse

When I arrived in Monondavo around 8:00am, it was already quite warm.   When the six wheel drive taxi-brouse dropped me at the turn off for Kirindy it was sweltering.  Fortunately, a passing research vehicle saved me most of the 5K march with full pack under noon sun.   The researcher, conveniently enough, was performing a population survey of the fossas at Kirindy.  He confirmed that the mating had not yet happened.  He also said there didn't seem to be very many fossas.

Image of Verreaux's Sifaka

I spent four days at Kirindy.  My conclusion is that Kirindy is a greatly underappreciated park.  Most tourists spend only one night.  Some day trip from Morondavo.  They seem to come here to satisfy themselves that they have seen a lemur and then return home or spend the rest of their time doing something they could have done in countless places around the globe.

My bewilderment is complete.  Kirindy is a wildlife photographer's dream.  Bright light, clear views, and animals in great numbers and variety.  Many stroll right into camp.  Short of the Serengeti, it doesn't get better than this.  In a forest setting, it is unparalleled.  I shot more photos than in the entire Northeast and their quality is much higher too.  Catching good images of nocturnal lemurs was still hard but there were enough opportunities that I actually got to care about good rather then being content with present.

Image of Giant Jumping Rat

About all that was missing was rain.  Without rain, there were few reptiles.  I was hoping to see the world's largest chameleon but he didn't show.  On the night following the third day, my guide stayed up until 2:00am to locate and illuminate the semi-resident but very shy Giant Jumping Rat.   This rodent in rabbit clothing is much more afraid of sound than light but doesn't much like either.  Only when the generator is off, the people are mostly asleep, and the feral pig is not making a ruckus, does he crawl and hop into camp.

After the late night duty I gave the guide a rest and set on my own just before dawn.  While it might have been reasonable to give myself a rest as well, the truth is: I wasn't sleeping much anyway.  I awoke from fitful slumber to air warm and sticky.  Just after sunrise, it actually dripped barely perceptible drops.  But then it stopped.    Without a trail map, I felt it wisest to stick to the roads.  Still, I managed to see a few new birds that I probably would never run into given the inappropriately late 7:30am start that Madagascar guides prefer.

Image of Male Fossa
Image of Female Fossa

I went into the forest no more that day.  I did manage several good photographs of the male fossa, however, as he walked quickly through camp.   The last time I came around him, to get an image of his face rather than his behind, he growled at me.  I beat a hasty retreat.  Fossas aren't lions or leopards but they are still big enough that I didn't want to tangle with one.

Fossas are actually kind of creepy.  Large land predators are cats, dogs, or bears.  Those are the rules on Planet Earth.  Long, low, with a hop like gait and a face somewhere between cat and dog, a fossa looks like something a science fiction writer would cook up as top predator on some imagined world.  It doesn't belong on Earth.

It doesn't seem to want to mate either.  At least not publicly and in the numbers I was lead to believe happened at Kirindy.  There were no film crews.  Mating fossas had been seen in a nearby park but no one was talking about the spectacular “fossa mating frenzy” mentioned in the Bradt Guide.  Maybe, as the researcher I met on the way in suggested, there just aren't many fossas.  Perhaps there used to be.  He did say the population was not stable.

Image of Red Tailed Sportive Lemur

The once promising clouds burned off, leaving only humidity.   I decided it was time to go.  Over the protests of my guide (who, no doubt, preferred to sleep in), I scheduled a 5:30am walk in the forest for the next and my last morning at Kirindy.

We saw a couple of species of parrots that had eluded me before as well as nocturnal lemurs that were inactive but not yet hidden themselves deep into their holes.  It was a good outing but not enough to keep me there another day.  (Maybe if it was cheap but, while Kirindy isn't horribly expensive, it certainly isn't cheap.)

Image of zebu cart and baobobs

It was another very hot day.  With the long wait for the taxi-brouse and the two hours needed to reach Morondavo, I didn't get lunch until past 3:00pm.  I managed to negotiate a taxi trip to the Avenue of Baobobs at dawn for less than standard.  It still felt expensive.  Traveling alone does have its down sides.

I wasn't able to book the taxi-brousse yet.  Perhaps it is just as well.  I didn't know the exact time frame of either the Baobobs trip or the taxi-brousse departure.  Trying to get them to mesh would have been stressful.

The last day was hot again.  I dipped my toes into the Mozambique Channel: down payment for when I go diving from Tulear.  There was no threat of rain.  I considered doing Tsingy de Bemaraha but getting there is difficult, time consuming, and expensive.  Doubly so for a solo traveler.  I just can't justify going to all that trouble just to bake in the sun seeing landscapes that are not unique to Madagascar.  Time to go.

The price of not booking ahead was another overnight taxi-brousse scheduled to leave at 1:00pm.  It actually left at 2:15pm.    We got into Antsirabe at 2:30am.  That's an awkward time.  I wasn't sure if I could get into my hotel at that time and I didn't want to hang around near the taxi-brousse stand for several hours.  After some waffling, and giving up my prime seat, I pushed on to Fianar, where the arrival time would be much more reasonable.  I hoped it would be an adequate substitution.

But I'm not impressed by Fianar.  It is much closer to Ranomafana.  However, I don't think this means much since even Antisirabe is within a day's journey of the park.  Further, while Finiarantsoa is not oppressively hot like Morondavo, the climate is nowhere near as pleasant as Antsirabe.  Hotels, restaurants, and other infrastructure are noticeably poorer quality than either Antsirabe or Morondavo.  I guess it will have to do.  I can't see backing up to Anstsirabe now.