Lake Alaotra. A diamond in the marsh.
Due to the imminent rice fields, you will think you were brought to south-east Asia. The largest lake of the island! It is located in central-eastern Madagascar, just west of Zahamena National Park. It is the only place to see the Critically Endangered Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which is endemic to the immediate vicinity of the lake, and occupies one of the most unusual niches of any primate.
The rich flora and fauna of Lake Alaotra includes a number of locally endemic species such as the Alaotra gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which is the world’s only primate found exclusively in wetlands; the Durrell mungo (Salanoia durrelli), which was only discovered in 2004; and the Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) and other rare and endangered water bird species. Due to its ecological peculiarity, the high biodiversity and the high proportion of locally endemic species, Lake Alaotra and its freshwater marshes have been included as a Ramsar area since 2007 (Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, No 1312).
Lac Alaotra can be visited after 2 or 3 hours drive through a very bad track.
Bamboo lemurs can be found either by paddling a pirogue through the reed beds in the early morning, or, when water levels are low, by walking in and around the reed beds on dry land. It is essential to have our experienced guide who is familiar with the behavior of this lemur, since it is a cryptic species and not easy to find. The village of Andreba has a marsh reserve where our guides can help find it, and there is a simple but well-run camp in Andreba as well.
Described by Gerald Durrell as a ‘honey-coloured teddy bear’, the Alaotran gentle lemur is the only species of primate to occur exclusively in wetlands. Significantly larger than the other species of bamboo lemur, this species uses its grasping hands and feet and long tail to balance when walking along reed stalks in its lakeside habitat. It can also leap from support to support in a vertical posture, landing feet-first, and may possibly be able to swim. They have a grey face, ears and chest, and the top of the head, back and tail are golden-brown with a variable amount of grey flecking. Their belly is a light brown ‘camel’ colour and their feet are grey. Gentle lemurs’ eyes are a deep red-brown and females, especially youngsters, often have very pale brown eyebrows. Adult males have enlarged top canine teeth that protrude from their muzzle, that give them a rather fierce expression, contrary to their name.
Direct observations during daylight hours showed that H. alaotrensis has two main activity periods, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, before dusk, with substantial night activity. It is not known how long gentle lemurs live, however 20-30 years is not unusual for other lemur species in captivity. Population estimate to number around 2,500 individuals. Population trend - Decreasing. This species has experienced a decline of more than 50% in less than a decade.
And what else is here to explore?
At the “station agricole” (agricultural station, 18 km to the north) visitors can learn all about crops. A collection of hundreds of varieties of rice and several varieties of sugar cane and tobacco is represented here.
Imerimandroso is an old village with typical Merina architecture, perched on a rocky promontory. A panoramic view offers a whole view of the lake even of the sacred islet at the northern part of the lake where Sihanaka resisted a Merina attack. One can also see the “Vohitrandriana” stone, a traditional place of worship, where foreigner visitors are tolerated if the oracles permit it.
Andilamena. A dirty road leads from the north end of the lake after 25 kilometres to this remote town. Some 15 kilometres away, on the boundary to the Eastern rainforest, there are the Sandratsio waterfalls. A panoramic point called “Le Belvédère du Marotsipy" (300 m high) offers a nice view to the Anosimboangy region, known for its precious stones sought.
The Manningory river plunges 90 m to the depth. This strenuous hike requires at least two days in the company of our guide confident with the twists and turns of the river. For good walkers only.
The smugglers route, a certainly remarkable trek that reaches the East coast after four or five days.
Watch more photos about Lake Alaotra here.