Madagascar part II: seeing Whats Worth restoring
After visiting our tree planting sites in Majunga and meeting the people who make it happen (see 1st Madagascar Blog) we got the chance to experience snippets of what the country could be if it were to be restored to its natural environment. We saw local wildlife, trekked through protected, primary forests and heard from the Malagasy locals.
Primary forests are pretty thin and far between. The somewhat inaccesible national park we went to visit (12 hours by 4 wheel drive on the main road) was a miniscule section of forest on the 500,000 Sq Km Island. We had to go with a guide and you have to pay to enter but we saw native wildlife that is only found in that forest and nowhere else in the world.
Wildlife. 90% of Madagascar's wildlife is found nowhere else in the world. All around there are weird and wonderful animals including so many varieties of most endemic species. A vast majority of Madagascar's wildlife is under threat as a result of habitat loss, different species have adapted to live in particular environments and are very sensitive to change. It was pretty incredible to get the chance to see these animals up close.
The locals. The majority of Madagascans live on $2 per day. For many of them, getting enough food is their main concern. As a result some of them are forced to use the forest in an unsustainable way as a means to make a living, this quite often includes burning the trees to make charcoal.
The Second Half
After visiting the tree planting around Majunga, we headed north for 14 hours to Nosy Be along another of the country's 'main' roads. The roads in Madagascar have not been repaired or maintained since they were built in the 90's, our bus would drive in to pot holes and have to climb out again they were so huge, meaning average speed was about 30km per hour.
Traveling these long journeys gave us an opportunity to see the results of deforestation across the country. The arid land was dry and desolate for a lot of the drive and nothing was growing but dry shrub.
In Nosy Be we took a trip in a local outrigger canoe to a boat access only village, surrounded by a forest full of native wildlife. This gave us a small snippet of what the rest of the country could look like if it was protected like this area was. We saw a Boa Constrictor, chameleons, lizards, a variety of lemurs, crazy insects and a multitude of exotic plants such as vanilla, cashew and mango trees. We also went snorkelling with sea turtles around a coral reef while we were there, a highlight of the trip for sure!
After a few days we got back on the bumpy road for another full day drive to Antsiranana, the furthest north point of Madagascar, we stayed on the beach and went for walks to explore the rugged coastline. It was our plan while we were here to try and climb one of the highest mountains.
Unfortunately it isn't that simple. On the map, the Montagne d'Ambre mountain didn't look too high (1475m) so we thought it would be quite doable in one day, all we had to do was walk through the National Park. This is easier siad than done however, we turned up to the park entrance (where we had to hire a guide - not something we would ever normally do) they told us there is no way we would be able to reach the summit that day. Pretty frustrating for us as we knew we were fit and capable enough if only we could go on our own accord.
At least we got to see some of the primary forest and some extremely rare wildlife. These small areas of national park around the country are the only areas where native forest exists and is heavily guarded.
Next stop was back to Antananarivo, the capital, by plane. It was a clear day and we got to see coast to coast how much dry, deforested landscape there really is in the north of Madagascar. Because the forest is gone ther is far less rainfall so it is transforming to desert.
In Antananarivo we got a taste of local life in the city, we rode the local buses, went to markets and ate the street food. Everyone we encountered was super friendly, helpful and interested in where we were from and what we were doing.
Pete flew his drone around the back streets where we were staying, much to the amusement of the local kids who, after trying to take it down with their kites, decided to run after it screaming!
Madagascar was an eyeopening experience to say the least. It was definitely the poorest and most corrupt country we have ever been to but also one of the most beautiful and intriguing. The country is in trouble, and if it continues as it is with a growing population that is getting less educated and poorer, unfortunately the forests will continue to diminish, resources will deplete people will increasingly starve along with most of the endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. The small snippets of native forest we experienced were incredible. We have seen that stabilising and restoring just some of it, makes a big difference; bringing back ecosystems, restoring habitat, providing food, creating jobs, giving education and enabling the Malagasy people to indepedently restore their own forests and save their country and all its living beings.
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