Arboretum Antsokay – an exciting wildlife in the sky, in the trees, on the ground
Arboretum Antsokay is a botanical garden specialized in the flora and fauna of Southwest Madagascar that should not be missed by anyone. This is the one must-see attraction. Essentially a 40 hectares distillation of the entire spiny forest in one place, it's a fantastic collection of 900 plant species, 90% endemic to the region.
In 1980, the Swiss man Herman Petignat bought the 0,04 km² sized area which was then almost barren. As a hobby botanist, he began to collect and cultivate plants of the South. Quickly it become much more than just pastime. Together with botany professor Werner Rauh from Heidelberg University, he described several unknown plants of Madagascar and successfully grew his project. It's also a model for how much-larger parks should be run. There's a classy interpretation center, a small museum, shop and some excellent bungalows, Auberge de la Table, with pool. Excellent meals à la carte is served at the stylish restaurant Dry Forest, situated in the heart of the reserve.
As the name already suggests, everything is about plants here. The guided tour through the botanical trail will open your eyes to the ingenuity of a diverse flora that has adapted, sometimes in extraordinary ways, to the heat and drought of this region. You will also discover the relationship that has developed between mankind and the plant kingdom, through the use of medicinal plants. Our trained guide takes you on tour of the area, where you see around a hundred of species of Euphornia and 60 species of Kalanchoe, as well as an abundance of reptiles and birds. You will can even find the plants that Petignat and his team described for the first time, e.g. Euphorbia kamponii, Euphorbia spinicapsula, Ceropegia hermanni or Cynanchum petignatii. Special attention is given to the conservation of endangered plants in southern Madagascar. Thus here have, for example, a considerable number of rare Aloe species such as Aloe suzannae or Aloe ruffingiana, and a large number of Malagasy Pachypodium ssp. A knowledgeable guide will explain to you everything about Madagascar’s plants – and this way you will also discover why Uncarina stellulifera is known as mousetrap on the island. Or what is the secret behind the strange Cyphostemma montagnacii.
But animal friends won’t be disappointed here. When you walk through the arboretum, it is advisable to see more than plants. In the sky, in the trees, on the ground, there is an abundance of a discreet but exciting fauna. Madagascar's spiny dry forest is a great opportunity to see creatures that you cannot see anywhere else in the world.
In Arboretum, you can perfectly watch 34 species of birds, among them the Madagascar kestrel (Falco newtoni), bee eaters (Merops superciliosus) and red-capped Couas (Coua ruficeps). They even sometimes come close to the pool. The reptiles and mammals of the South are presentable here, too: In the night, you can find Paroedura picta without any problems while bats are flying over your head. Some mouse lemurs (Microcebus griseorufus) even visit the restaurant from time to time. During daytime, you may discover the pretty warty chameleon (Furcifer verrucosus) or small Merrem’s Madagascar swifts (Oplurus cyclurus).
Not only chameleons, boas or tenrecs but also other endemic species such as mouse lemurs (Microcebus griseorufus) are the main attraction of the nocturnal visit of the arboretum. Surprisingly, these animals are not that hard to see! You can find mouse lemurs by brightening with a torch in the bushes and detect the reflections of their eyes. Chameleons are quite hard to find during the day, but surprisingly easy to find during the night. If you turn a light into the trees, their skin reflects light.
Ethnological trail makes you will discover the 3 main ethnicities of the south of this country. The visit reflects aspects of their daily lives, funerary art and especially their habitat. The houses in the villages are built to scale. The usual objects from these ethnic groups are highlighted in the small museum. Towards the end of the visit, admire the collection of fossils and minerals, and the egg of Aepyornis, the giant bird that disappeared 700 years ago, scorpions and insects preserved in this museum.
We highly recommend staying here least at one day and at one night, during the trip or at the end. The Arboretum has a very good infrastructure. The Auberge de la Table offers an extraordinary restaurant, six very nice bungalows, designed for one or two persons, with superior equipment, running hot water, electricity made by solar panels and a great pool to refresh yourself.
Watch more photos about Arboretum Antsokay here.