The Ifotaka Community Forest – Step into the magical world
The Ifotaka Community Forest is a vast area of the most unusual forest on Earth which is home to the traditional Antandroy tribe. The reserve protects 22,000 ha of spiny thicket and gallery forest in the south east of Madagascar. The forest is considered sacred by the Antandroy people, since it hides the ancestral tombs of the Antandory tribe, making it a very interesting and culturally rich place to visit.
Ifotaka is a small village in a remote part of Madagascar that is situated in Androy region, 90 km west of Fort Dauphin, in the heart of the spiny bush. The ride is fascinating – through wetland forest of Anosy and then a transitional zone from the rainy side of the mountains to the dry region of Androy in the west. Finally we reach the spiny forest – an amazing assemblage of octopus trees of the Didiereaceae family and Euphorbias and a whole different fauna. It takes 4 hours in a jeep traveling to get to the place. You will have to cross the large concrete bridge that spans the Mandrare River. Light aircraft transfers from Fort-Dauphin can also be arranged at a very reasonable cost.
The Mandrare River is the largest in the south Madagascar. It looks like a flowing mass of red water, laden with laterite, which fills its bed about 800 meters wide from December to mid-February. The water is abundant until August and then it becomes scarce until December when we find a bed almost completely dry. At the time of the flood the river rises about 7 meters. In the dry season, on the end of the water, women wash their children or the linen, men dig holes in order to recover the underground fresh water of the river and recover the sand for the construction.
Ifotaka Community Chalets (CCI) is located near this village on the banks of the Mandrare River, in the heart of the spectacular thorny and sacred forest of Antandroy. The Community Chalets Initiative was launched by the Tandroy Conservation Trust in 2003 to help residents conserve better the biodiversity of their area. These bungalows were designed by local leaders and built by local craftsmen. The 8 bungalows, large campsite and a newly constructed interpretive centre are all community owned and locally staffed and managed. All income generated is either reinvested in the maintenance and management of the bungalows or used to regenerate degraded areas in the community managed forest.
The Antandroy or Antampatrana is a group of local Malgasy people, who live in the southernmost tip of Madagascar. Antandroy means “People of the thorn bush” which is quite a fitting description considering their fascination with cacti! They surround their village and houses with all kinds of thorn plants, just one of the many idiosyncrasies of this once isolated tribe. Witch doctors, totem poles and haunted forests are just some of the elements that make the Antandroy culture so interesting to outsiders. The Antandroy people are joyful and singing, dancing and exquisite music making are all part of any given day in an Antandroy village. You will also have the opportunity to discover imposing stone tombs surmounted by aloalo (carved wooden totem) and trophies (horns of zebus) which give a sacred side to this forest. A guide can show you the hidden graves in the undergrowth and will also explain the traditions and rituals of their ancestry worship. It is possible to visit the ombiasy (traditional healer), learn how to use the piletse, a zebu-hide sling shot, and take a zebu-cart to the colourful market at Fenaivo.
Ifotaka Forest is one of the best preserved in the country because the locals protect the pristine wildlife areas so closely. Gallery forest on the floodplain of the Mandare River grows in semi-isolated patches on river banks, here it forms vulnerable "islands" of vegetation. There are many species of trees, but the dominant ones are Tamarind (Tamarindus indica: Malagasy kily) and Acacia (Acacia rovumae: Malagasy benono). These two species form a large part of the overarching canopy at Ifotaka.
The area is also home to the spiny forest. This little-known forest reserve features a strange and ethereal habitat found nowhere else on the planet: the spiny thicket. It's so bizarre that biologists can't decide whether it's a forest or a desert, hence its name. 95% of the plants in this almost alien habitat are totally unique.
These areas of gallery forest and spiny forest are home to all the species that are indigenous to this part of Madagascar, particularly Ring-tailed lemurs and Verreaux's Sifakas. Ifotaka Forest shelters many reptiles: iguanas, chameleons, turtles (including the endangered radish turtle) and more than 50 species birds.
If you love birdlife, be sure to ask your personal guide for a forest walk to seek out Madagascar Buzzard, Crested Coua, Pied Crows, Madagascar Coucal, Crested Drongo, Peregrine Falcon, Madagascar Fody. Species including Harrier Hawk, Francis Sparrowhawk are all readily seen, as well as many other bird species, including Hoopoe, Sickle Billed and White Headed Vangas, Gray-headed Lovebirds, Lafresnayes and Verreauxs Couas, and Madagascar Malachite Kingfisher.
Night walks here are excellent. As the diurnal species turn in for the night, the thicket resounds with the clamour of its nocturnal residents. You will spot two tiny species of Mouse lemur (Grey and Grey-brown) bouncing between tree trunks, highly vocal White-footed sportive lemur (or Lepilemur) and sleepy sifakas. Night time is also the best period to look for chameleons sleeping at the ends of branches out of reach from predators, as well as Scops Owls and, with a little luck, the scarce White-browed Owl.
The Ifotaka Forest is home to magnificent baobabs. In this part of the south, Adansonia za is the largest Baobab species. There is even its own small Avenue of the Baobabs.
Watch more photos about Ifotaka Community Forest here.