A Brief History of Andasibe

By Rainer Dolch

In both scientific and travel literature the names Périnet, Andasibe and Analamazaotra are often unmindfully used in synonymy.

Analamazaotra

The name Analamazaotra is derived from the forest and the small river that flows close to Association Mitsinjo’s office today. With the expansion of the Merina kingdom towards the coast in the 19th century under King Radama I., a small village existed here that was named Analamazaotra after the river. It served both as a small military post and lodging stop on the major route linking Antananarivo with the coastal cities of Andevoranto and Toamasina (colonial name of Tamatave).

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo's office today.

The village of Analamazaotra, which was located near Mitsinjo’s office today.

Travel was difficult and mainly on foot on this small and winding unpaved trail. Only wealthy people of the Merina aristocracy or foreigners used it, usually carried in palanquins (filanjana), whereas goods were transported by zebu (local cattle) pack.

After the end of the Merina monarchy, brought about by the French occupation of Madagascar in 1896, the new colonial rulers immediately aimed at converting the old trail into a workable road and simultaneously building a parallel railway line between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

The railway stretching from Antananarivo to Toamasina. Andasibe was a popular stopover en route.

Périnet

In the early 1900s, the French had established a train station close to Analamazaotra village that was named after the principal engineer of this section, Henri Périnet. From Périnet station, logging camps along the railway were established in order to make way for the rails and to produce wood fuel for the steam engines. The biggest logging camp was established close to Périnet station itself and simply called Andasibe (meaning at the place of the big camp).

La Gare of Périnet

La Gare of Périnet

Thanks to its geographical position along the railway, Andasibe/Périnet attracted migrant workers from various regions of Madagascar and soon developed into a village of its own. After the construction of the fashionable Buffet de la Gare, starting in the late 1930s, the village became a popular lunch stop for the daily trains between Antananarivo and Toamasina.

Starting in the 1940s, exploitation of the nearby graphite mines by companies Louys and Izouard contributed to another influx of workers. Both mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Mining and forestry stayed the main employers through the end of the colonial period and into times well after independence came in 1960.

Andasibe

Whereas Périnet was used as the common name of the village, people preferred to use the Malagasy instead of the French name and again called it Andasibe after independence.

Parallel to the decline of the last sawmill (the Complexe Industriel de Bois d’Andasibe or C.I.B.A.) whose ruins can still be seen across the river from village today, tourism began to emerge as a new source of income. Parts of the venerable Analamazaotra Forest Station were set aside as a special reserve in 1970 to protect the Indri, the emblematic lemur of the region.

Villagers, who had formerly used their acquaintance with the forest for the purpose of fishing or hunting, now offered their services to tourists to work as wildlife guides. The Buffet de la Gare, which for a long time was the only hotel of Andasibe, soon faced competition by other hotels springing up. Tourism started to boom after the creation of Mantadia National Park in 1989. At the turn of the millennium, tourism had itself established as a major source of income for Andasibe.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Although tourism continues to be a strong component of the local economy of Andasibe, wealth is not distributed equally among residents.

Unfortunately, this wealth is not equally distributed among its inhabitants. Many remain woefully poor, subsisting on meager forms of agriculture such as slash-and-burn, charcoal production, logging and gold panning. All these activities are not only detrimental to the environment, but they are ill-suited to help break the vicious cycle of poverty and the degradation of natural resources.

We would like to encourage visitors to take a stroll through the village with this history in mind. Anything you purchase on the local market or spend in any of the small hotelys, will help the local economy. Today, Andasibe Commune has roughly 12,000 inhabitants that are distributed among 6 fokontany.

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Mammals of Andasibe Part 1 – Lemurs and Carnivores

Lemurs

This is the realm of the lemurs, both diurnal and nocturnal. While the enigmatic Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) is the rarest of the Andasibe region’s 14 species, the eerie song of the Indri (Indri indri) is the epitaph of Andasibe. Indri are easily found with the help of local guides in the morning within Analamazaotra Forest Station, an experience not to be missed while visiting.

Next to the Indri, perhaps the next two most charismatic lemur species of Andasibe are best searched for in the forests north of the village, at Torotorofotsy and Mantadia National Park. Here it is possible — with some luck — to observe the Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema) and Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata), the latter more often heard than seen.

Diademed Sifaka are best viewed in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

Diademed Sifaka are best viewed in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

A tiny local endemic only described in 2005 – Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara) — as well as Dwarf Lemurs (Cheirogaleus spp.), the Eastern Woolly Lemur (Avahi laniger) and the Greater Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur mustelinus) are all common nocturnal encounters.

Less often stumbled upon at night is the Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur (Allocebus trichotis). Andasibe is also home to the seldom seen and bizarre Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis).

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The infrequently observed nocturnal Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur (Allocebus trichotis).

In addition to the Greater Bamboo Lemur, the more widespread Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus) also inhabits the forests around Andasibe. As their name suggests, the majority of their diet consists of bamboo, though they also will feed on leaves, fruit and flowers.

Lesser Bamboo Lemur

Lesser Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur griseus)

If there is only one lemur that will be seen while in Andasibe, it is the Common Brown Lemur (Eulemur fulvus), which can even be found scrounging around the garbage of the National Park entrance in search of leftover banana peels or mango rinds.

Carnivores

Next to humans, the main predator of the above lemurs is the Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), the largest carnivore in Madagascar. Though at first glance they may look like a large muscular feline, they are in fact related to mongoose, as are all carnivores in Madagascar.

The Fossa, Madagascar's largest carnivore, is found in Andasibe but rarely seen. Photo in captivity by Ran Kirlian

The Fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore, is found in Andasibe but rarely seen. Photo (taken in captivity) by Ran Kirlian.

In Andasibe, the Fossa seems to be rare but occasionally a spotting is reported during their mating season between October and December when males leave their solo lifestyle and together congregate around a mate.

Not to be confused with the Fossa, though its scientific name does just that, the Fanaloka or Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana) is the size of a large housecat and patterned in elegant black bands and spots. They are nocturnal and very rarely found.

Fanaloka (Fossa fossana). Photo by Joaquín Romero Redondo.

Fanaloka (Fossa fossana). Photo by Joaquín Romero Redondo.

Similar in size or slightly larger than the Malagasy Civet is the Falanouc (Eupleres goudotii), which have an awkwardly broad tail and angular pointed snout.

The most commonly observed carnivore may be the Ring-tail Mongoose (Galidia elegans), which of the four carnivores of Andasibe is the only one active during the day. They are small and weasel-like in size and shape, with an elegant banded tail and russet body.

The Ring-tailed Mongoose is active during the day and occasionally encountered. Photo by Jeff Gibbs.

The Ring-tailed Mongoose is active during the day and occasionally encountered. Photo by Jeff Gibbs.

There are unconfirmed reports that Malagasy Striped Mongoose (Galidictis striata) and the exotic Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica) may also be found in Andasibe.

Lemurs and Carnivores of Andasibe

Primates:
Microcebus lehilahytsara Goodman’s Mouse Lemur
Cheirogaleus major Greater Dwarf Lemur
Cheirogaleus crossleyi Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur
Allocebus trichotis Hairy-eared Dwarf Lemur
Lepilemur mustelinus Greater Sportive Lemur
Prolemur simus Greater Bamboo Lemur
Hapalemur griseus Lesser Bamboo Lemur
Eulemur fulvus Common Brown Lemur
Eulemur rubriventer Red-bellied Lemur
Varecia variegata Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Propithecus diadema Diademed Sifaka
Avahi laniger Eastern Woolly Lemur
Indri indri Indri
Daubentonia madagascariensis Aye-aye
Carnivora:
Eupleres goudotii Falanouc – Mongoose-like
Cryptoprocta ferox Fossa
Galidia elegans Ring-tail Mongoose
Fossa fossana Fanaloka – Malagasy Civet
Galidictis striata? Malagasy Striped Mongoose
Viverricula indica? Small Indian Civet

Top 5 Andasibe Experiences

1) Meet the Indri

Madagascar’s largest lemur, the Indri (Indri indri) is the reason Analamazaotra forest of Andasibe was originally set aside as a reserve more than 40 years ago. Their big black and white furry forms are easily viewed in both Andasibe National Park and Mitsinjo’s Analamazaotra Forest Station.

Indri 07

In our forest we have two groups habituated to humans, and on lucky mornings it’s possible to get within a meter of wild Indri. It’s a truly intimate experience not to be missed.

2) Take a Dip in the Lac Sacré

A 60 minute drive north of Andasibe is Mantadia National Park. While there are a number of popular “piscine naturelle” in the protected areas around Madagascar, the cascade and pool in Mantadia is just what will want after having hiked the rugged terrain of this less visited and more adventurous part of the Andasibe-Mantadia complex.

A visit to the cascade in Mantadia National Park, a 60 minute drive north of Andasibe.

A visit to the cascade in Mantadia National Park, a 60 minute drive north of Andasibe.

3) Night Hike in Rainforest

While almost all visitors to Andasibe make a morning trek through the forest, many miss out on the numerous nocturnal creatures that are hidden during the day and only emerge after dark.

Mitsinjo offers night hikes through rainforest for nocturnal wildlife viewing. With luck, you’ll have a chance to observe the locally-endemic Goodman’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus lehilahytsara). Common encounters also include the Greater Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus major), Leaf-tailed Geckos (Uroplatus sikorae and U. phantasticus), and an impressive sample of Andasibe’s amphibian diversity such as the common tree frogs Boophis viridis and Boophis pyrrhus.

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4) Tour the Village

Don’t miss out on an afternoon stroll through Andasibe village. The town has a population of around 5,000 people, with around 12,000 living in the surrounding Commune. Market is centrally located and busiest on Saturdays. There is even an internet café with WiFi and four computers should you get the urge to send photos to some of your friends back home!

A walk through Andasibe village will introduce you to the people and culture not experienced in the forest.

A walk through Andasibe village will introduce you to the people and culture not experienced in the forest.

5) Plant a Tree

It’s not just about taking the experience away but also giving back. Association Mitsinjo offers a chance for visitors to contribute to conservation in Andasibe by going on our “Reforestation Circuit” which lasts a few hours and tours not only Analamazaotra Forest Station, but also our tree nurseries and recently reforested habitat.

At the end of the circuit, you can also plant your own tree if you like. We hope you can come back and visit when it has grown.

reforestation11

Birding in the Andasibe-Mantadia Region

By Derek Schuurman

The region where Mitsinjo is based contains a number of rainforest and marsh sites which offer mind-blowing birding – a true ‘O.O.E.’ (Orgasmic Ornithological Experience in birder speak), to put it mildly. I remember a comment to this effect during my last visit to the site, incidentally the same day I met up with Rainer Dolch there. A birding tour-leader friend, Callan Cohen of Birding Africa, was visiting with one of their groups. ‘This place just never fails to deliver’, Callan beamed as his group was enthusiastically ticking off birds left, right and centre, on both sides of the road. But it wasn’t only birds that were in fashion that sunny November morning: a group of Indri had come to the trees right by the roadside, providing an unexpected and memorable treat.

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You might wonder why Andasibe-Mantadia is included in all Madagascar birding itineraries. Well, for starters this is where you can seek the bulk of Madagascar’s rainforest-dependent endemic birds, as well as a select band of marsh-dwelling species unique to the eastern domain. Rather than rattle off a grocery list of the what you may spot in this wonderful area, I’ll relate some of the birding highlights I’ve had the privilege of enjoying there through the years.

Topping the wish lists of most visiting birders is the 5 bird families endemic to Madagascar. Nationally rare and cryptic, the wary Brown Mesite Mesitornis unicolor may be seen in Mantadia with luck and usually, some hard work. The 3 mesites are terrestrial and rail-like, with one species inhabiting each of the island’s 3 main ecotypes. In some rainforest sites, the Brown Mesite is protected by a ‘fady’ (taboo) so strong that even mentioning its name is forbidden.

Pitta-like Ground Roller (Atelornis pittoides)

Pitta-like Ground Roller (Atelornis pittoides)

A peculiar and unmistakable endemic, the vociferous and crow-sized Cuckoo-roller Leptosomus discolor, is far more conspicuous in suitable forests around the island. Sexually dimorphic, this oddity feeds largely on reptiles and is quite often seen conducting elaborate aerial displays. I had my best ever views of it in Analamazaotra, when a pair perched some 3 meters away from us for more than half an hour, sunning themselves. Studying its features, you can’t help but notice that it seems as if the bird’s eyes are set abnormally far back on its skull. Their sweeping, whistling calls, along with the whale-like vocalizations of the Indri, are among Madagascar’s ‘hallmark’ sounds.

Then there are the Couas, a family related to the Asian Malkohas and well represented in Andasibe-Mantadia. Three of the species are arboreal and behave rather like Africa’s turacous, while the rest are terrestrial and you might say somewhat reminiscent of ornamental pheasants. All have naked blue facial masks and long, broad tails.Fortunately common and widespread, it is the flamboyant Blue Coua Coua caerulea which most visitors want to glimpse. You can find it all over the area, even in degraded secondary growth and in plantations. Andasibe-Mantadia is also the best place in which to seek the terrestrial Red-fronted Coua Coua reynaudii, which is often seen scuttling along forest paths. Another terrestrial coua of which I had corking views during one trip, is the much darker Red-breasted Coua Coua serriana.

Male Sunbird Asity (Neodrepanis coruscans) Photograph by Olivier Langrand

Male Sunbird Asity (Neodrepanis coruscans)
Photograph by Olivier Langrand

Arguably the most bizarre endemic Malagasy bird family is the Asitys, two of which vaguely resemble squat broadbills, while the other two look like tiny sunbirds, and indeed for decades, were called ‘False sunbirds’. What all four have in common is that males in breeding regalia sport naked facial skin with caruncles which could be turquoise or emerald and almost fluorescent. I learned during my first Velvet Asity Philepitta castanea sighting, that rainforest birding is just as productive in inclement weather as it is in dry weather, so I always tell prospective visitors that if they are inside the rainforest and it starts raining, just stay put, because the birds are used to such weather so are no less active. In an area of secondary growth, I once also enjoyed an awesome, prolonged sighting of a group of three Common Sunbird-asitys Neodrepanis coruscans, which guides normally tend to seek around the parasitic, mistletoe-like Bakerellaplants high up in forest trees.

Madagascar’s most famed bird family – and one which recently, following taxonomic investigation has been added to considerably following the inclusion of the Ward’s Flycatcher Pseudobias wardi, Crossley’s Babbler Mystacornis crossleyi and the Newtonias (which resemble Africa’s tit-babblers) – the Vangas, abound in Andasibe-Mantadia. It is the site for seeking one of the smallest species, the Coral-billed Nuthatch VangaHypositta corallirostris, which superficially resembles the true nuthatches.

The more ‘shrike-like’ Vangas, such as Hook-billed Vanga Vanga curvirostris, Rufous Schetba rufa and Pollen’s Vanga Xenopirostris polleni, are more often located by their distinctive calls which often include duets. It was again in secondary shrubbery that I had my best ever views of a pair of Crossley’s Babbler Mystacornis crossleyi, now known to be the only terrestrial Vanga. (Previously, I had found it’s nest on a Pandanus leaf).

Maurice Ratsesakanana calling out Madagascar Rails in a marsh near Andasibe Photograph by Derek Schuurman

Maurice Ratsesakanana calling out Madagascar Rails in a marsh near Andasibe
Photograph by Derek Schuurman

The seemingly bland roadside herbage around Andasibe is well worth investigating: this is particularly the case when it comes to calling out various species of rail present in the area. We found the White-throated rail the most trying of the lot to coax into the open, despite its loud and impressive vocal repertoire. I attribute their elusive and wary behaviour around Analamazaotra possibly due to persecution. By contrast, I once followed a pair of Madagascar Wood-rails Canirallus kioloides around the forest interior along a stream for at least 20 minutes during which they showed no signs of timidity and reminded me a little of a pair of bantams. One of my all-time birding highlights on the island, was calling out the almost ventriloquial Madagascar Flufftail Sarothrura insularis, of which many pairs have territories in the rank roadside growth. To attract them, guides just flatten a small area of grass, take a few steps back onto the road with you, and play the calls on tape or MP3. Soon enough, males and sometimes even female flufftails, enter the clearing to investigate. Even more responsive to taped calls is the extremely territorial Madagascar Rail Rallus madagascariensis, which inhabits patches of marshy vegetation and which in my experience, would be virtually impossible to see unless you have its recorded call handy.

…the holy grail of Madagascar birding: Slender-billed Flufftail Lemurolimnas watersi Photograph by Lucienne Wilme

…the holy grail of Madagascar birding: Slender-billed Flufftail (Lemurolimnas watersi) Photograph by Lucienne Wilme

One of the ‘holy grails’ of Madagascar birding, which has its stronghold in the marshes around Andasibe, is the Slender-billed flufftail Lemurolimnas watersi. It is one of a handful of rare and enigmatic Malagasy endemics which went AWOL for a good few decades until its rediscovery at Ranomafana by ornithologist Lucienne Wilme. Its call, first recorded by Wilme, differs markedly from that of other flufftails. Recently, it was accorded its own genus, Lemurolimnas. Following drier than usual weather in late 2010 and 2011 and marsh draining activities around Torotorofotsy, a RAMSAR site where Association Mitsinjo is active, Rainer Dolch recently told me that never before had they noticed so many Meller’s Duck Anas melleri, Madagascar Snipe Gallinago macrodactyla, Madagascar Rail Rallus madagascariensis, Slender-billed Flufftail Lemurolimnas watersi and Grey Emutail Amphilais seebohmi aggregated where patches of marsh still remained intact.

One can only hope that for the sake of the unique assemblage of often endangered species such as Greater Bamboo Lemur Prolemur simus, Slender-billed Flufftail and Golden Mantella Mantella aurantiaca (the island’s flagship frog) the government and conservation organisations will muscle in and give Andasibe-Mantadia – and more specifically Torotorofotsy Marsh – the attention it now needs more than ever.

Maurice Ratsesakanana 'Owling' in Andasibe Photograph by Derek Schuurman

Maurice Ratsesakanana
‘Owling’ in Andasibe
Photograph by Derek Schuurman

Station Forestière d’Analamazaotra is the only site in the region where night walks are permitted. For any visitors this is a magical experience: aside from the chance to see a variety of nocturnal lemurs, reptiles and frogs, birders can look for Madagascar Long-eared Owl Asio madagascariensis, Madagascar Scops Owl Otus rutilus, Madagascar Nightjar Caprimulgus madagascariensis and the uncommon Collared Nightjar Caprimulgus enarratus. During one night walk, I had the good fortune of seeing a roosting Pitta-like Ground-roller Atelornis pittoides, the most attractive member of what is possibly the most sought-after endemic family on birders’ lists. With some work, you have a chance of finding the other three rainforest-dependent ground-rollers in Andasibe-Mantadia, particularly during spring and summer months when they are calling.

Among the long list of other species present, is the country’s largest forest-dependent bird, the impressive Madagascar Crested Ibis Lophotibis cristata. A good place to look for it is the ‘Orchid Garden’ called Parc à Orchidées, a clearing at Station Forestière d’Analamazaotra. Although they are skittish, it is not too difficult to see them foraging on forest paths. Other memorable highlights include the Madagascar Blue Pigeon Alectroenas madagascariensis, part of a genus of frugivorous pigeons regionally endemic to the western Indian Ocean islands. With its deep red facial ‘mask’, dark blue upperparts and maroon tail, it is a beaut! Look around flowering plants for the iridescent Madagascar Long-billed Green Sunbird Cinnyris notatus, the smaller Souimanga Sunbird Cinnyris sovimanga, Madagascar White-eye Zosterops maderaspatanus and Madagascar Starling Saroglossa aurata. They are all common and not shy. Around the hotels, pretty Madagascar wagtails are even more confiding and allow close approach, while high above the canopy, people usually see Madagascar Spinetails Zoonavena grandidieri wheeling about.

Madagascar Crested Ibis Lophotibis cristata

Madagascar Crested Ibis Lophotibis cristata

A phenomenon often encountered inside the rainforests and something which leaves a lasting impression on any visiting birder, are the loose, mixed-species flocks which one might suddenly happen on after not seeing anything for some time. Watching a wave of birds like this passing by slowly, is unforgettable. The last such flock I remember, contained – among others – Spectacled and Grey-crowned Greenbuls (Bernieria zosterops &Bernieria cinereiceps), Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone mutata, White-browed Oxylabes Oxylabes madagascariensis, Common and Green Jerys (Neomixis tenella & Neomixis viridis), Dark and Common Newtonias (Newtonia amphichroa & Newtonia brunneicauda), Blue and Red-shouldered Vangas (Cyanolanius madagascarinus & Calicalicus rufocarpalis), Ward’s Flycatcher Pseudobias wardi, Thamnornis WarblerThamnornis chloropetoides and Red Forest Fody Foudia omissa – in all a stunning selection which just animated the rainforest.

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I could enthuse for pages more about the exceptionally rewarding birding to be had in the Andasibe-Mantadia area – as mentioned in the opening paragraph, the location simply never fails to deliver. Armed with one of the field guides published on the island’s birds, and accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, I would recommend spending at least 3 days in this area for any birder fortunate enough to make it to Madagascar

 

Originating in South Africa, Derek now works for Rainbow Tours where he uses his ornithological skills and general wildlife knowledge as part of his work all over the world. He is also the co-author of two Madagascar Books: Madagascar Wildlife: A Visitors Guide’(Bradt) and Globetrotter Guide to Madagascar (New Holland) and contributor to several other Madagascar books.