15 March 2008

First Rainforest Excursion

We are at Mahatsinjo, a private reserve run by an NGO where another volunteer works, literally across the street from Andasibe National Park, the most visited park in the country. We are all excited to finally see the rainforest after 1½ months of seeing only the transformed landscape of the plateau. Most of us are in a hotel but a few of us have chosen to camp at the park. They have a few sand pits with ravinala roofs over them that you can set your tent up in. They even have a light bulb, which I think is a bit excessive.
It is really nice to be in the rainforest, though it is awfully dry and there are eucalyptus and pine trees all around. But as soon as one gets back into the forest proper it is clear how much incredible biodiversity there is here and how totally unlike the rest of the plateau it is.
Two days ago we went on a night hike. I didn’t see any nocturnal lemurs, but rather a huge chameleon, and a nocturnal moth and snail, both of which are the size of my hand. We also saw Brookesia, the family that claims the smallest chameleon in the world.
Today, we got to see and hear the Indri, who’s haunting song carries for kilometers and is one of the most incredible noises I have ever encountered. Sifaka, brown lemurs, couas (one of the five endemic bird families on the island), paradise flycatcher, giraffe-neck weevils, you name it. Everything but the golden bamboo lemur, one of the rarest primates in the world, which was recently discovered in the area.
It is very inspiring to see all the scientific work that this local NGO is doing, and how they are using ecotourism to fuel the development of their village. I also got a chance to build some rainforest trail and help plant trees in a forest restoration project. They collect mycorrhizal soil and seeds form the forest, grow the seedlings in the nursery, then plant them in strategic patches close to the forest, paying attention to the interspacing of fast and slow growing, short and long lived trees. The forest is given enough of a head start this way that it can out compete the invasives that one finds all around where people once cut and burned the land. It is an incredible process to see and unfortunately in danger from loss of funding.