Nosy Bé, meaning Big Island in the Malagasky language, is situated just off Madagascar’s northwest coast. The island is 19 miles (30 kilometres) long, 12 miles (19 kilometres) wide and has an area of approximately 120 square miles (310 square kilometres). It is Madagascar’s most expensive and best beach destination, however it remains fairly low-key. The island was formed by volcanoes and is extremely fertile and forested with numerous craters and lakes. It is the centre for the production of the perfume essence from the ylang-ylang trees. The heady scent of their flowers gave the island the name ‘Nosy Manitra’, meaning ‘Perfumed Isle’. In addition to the ylang-ylang trees, sugar cane, coffee, vanilla, pepper, rum and bitter oranges are also produced.
The first inhabitants are thought to have been Swahili and Indian traders in the 15th century. The arrival of Captain Passot’s warship Colibri in 1840 initiated the cession of the island to the French and the island’s main town, Hellville, was named after Passot’s commander in chief, Admiral de Hell. The island has been a part of Madagascar since 1896.
Nosy Komba is a small, volcanic island between Nosy Bé and the main island of Madagascar. It is known as ‘Lemur Island’ for its population of habituated black lemurs. It is also known as Nosy Ambariovato, meaning ‘Island Surrounded by Rocks’, as the island resembles a giant turtle surrounded by volcanic rocks, which protect the shores from rough waters. The peak of the island is 622 metres high and is covered by dense tropical forest.
The fisherman’s village of Ampangorina on Nosy Komba is the largest village on the island. It is home to a table cloth market, numerous souvenir stalls and handicraft shops displaying colourful paintings and hand-carved sculptures and masks. The village school, Ecole Primaire Publique Ampangorina, is situated just in front of the beach and has a basketball court, ‘Maki Stadium’ and a few cows that feed on the long grass nearby. Just in front of the school is the communal, outdoor ‘laundrette’ where the locals clean their laundry by hand using water that is pumped down from the highlands.
The lemur park is located within walking distance of Ampangorina and the lemurs are free but quite tame. The entrance fee to the park is 4000 Malagascy Ariary (approximately $1.24) and locals will offer tourists bananas to feed to the lemurs and encourage the furry animals to jump onto their shoulders for a great photo opportunity. Lonely Planet states that this practise is detrimental to the lemurs and that visitors should refuse the offer to feed the animals.
Until around 160 million years ago, Madagascar was attached to the African mainland as part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland (formed of Africa, South America, Australia, Antartica, India and Madagascar). As Gondwanaland broke apart, Madagascar moved away from Africa. The first lemur-like primates on the fossil records appeared roughly 60 million years ago in mainland Africa and crossed over to Madagascar shortly thereafter. The island continued to drift eastwards and by the time monkeys arrived on the scene, 17 to 23 million years ago, Madagascar was isolated from their arrival. As highly intelligent and adaptive primates, monkeys quickly drove the lemurs elsewhere in the world towards extinction. Madagascar’s lemurs were isolated from this evolutionary change and radiated towards the island’s many niches without much competition or predation.
The word ‘lemur’ derives from the term ‘lemures’, meaning ghost or spirit in Roman mythology. As tree dwellers, these mammals can be heard but often seem invisible in the dense foliage. They live in groups, which can number as many as 20 individuals and are mainly noctural. They are endemic to Madagascar and can only be found in this part of the world. There are almost 130 types of lemur and almost all are classed as rare, vulnerable or endangered. Most of the dangers they face are due to habitat destruction, deforestation and hunting. 17 species have already become extinct since man arrived on the shores of Madagascar, approximately 2,000 years ago. They are now considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be the world’s most endangered mammals. The largest species that now remains is the Indri lemur (head and body length of approximately 68 centimetres), which would have been dwarfed by the gorilla sized species that once exited on the island.
Black lemurs (Eulemur makako) are limited to the northwest tip of Madagascar, Nosy Komba and Nosy Bé. They can be found in four habitats: primary rainforest, secondary rainforest, timber plantations and food crop plantations. They are primitive primates that are about the size of an average house cat. Adults can weight approximately 2.4 kilograms and head and body lengths vary between 30 and 45 centimetres. There are two subspecies: black lemurs (Eulemur makako makako) and blue-eyed lemurs (Eulemur macaco flavifrons). Males in both subspecies are black, while females have a dark coat which lightens to a deep rust colour on the sides.
Within the sanctuary snakes and tortoises are kept in enclosures however there are many other animals that roam free in the area. Panther chameleons, that are endemic to Madagascar, can be seen on branches of trees, along with lizards, spiders and millipedes.
The lemur park is situated within rainforest so make sure to cover up and cover yourself in mosquito repellent to avoid being bitten! Locals often bring chameleons over to groups of tourists, if you photograph it you will be asked to pay a dollar. This is also true for locals that offer tourists bananas to feed to the lemurs.
- Information provided by Silversea Cruises