Watch our for the baobab! – Madagascar ecotourism

To me, Baobabs are synonymous with a troubled little prince whose planet succumbed to the mighty powers of these ancient trees:

petit prince

¨Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces . . .

“It is a question of discipline,” the little prince said to me later on. “When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work,” the little prince added, “but very easy.”

[…]  the danger of the baobabs is so little understood, and such considerable risks would be run by anyone who might get lost on an asteroid, that for once I am breaking through my reserve. “Children,” I say plainly, “watch out for the baobabs!.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, 1943, Chapter 5

Yes, indeed, Little Prince, watch out for the baobabs

But, in our planet, unlike in asteroid B-612, we don´t want to methodically eliminate these majestic trees. In our planet, instead, we have to make sure they continue to grow freely and healthily.

Baobabs are imperial, resourceful trees capable of storing up to 120,000 litres of water inside their extended trunks to endure the harsh drought conditions they usually live in. There are eight species, six native to Madagascar, and one each to mainland Africa and Australia.

Baobabs are the national tree of Madagascar, a privileged island that also nurtures many other plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world (like lemurs, chameleons and even more species of orchids than on the entire African continent, etc).
Baobab avenue

You and I, and everyone else have written Madagascar in our bucket lists. You and I, everyone, we all want a chance to see the beauty of the fourth largest island in the planet and the unique flora and fauna that inhabits it. And it´s precisely because we all want to put our foot in Madagascar that conservation efforts and responsible tourism are key to the islands´ survival and healthy longevity, now threatened by severe deforestation.

Ring-tailed Lemur

In 2003, the Government of Madagascar developed the  Tourism Master Plan, a scheme to promote sustainable development and use responsible tourism to reduce poverty levels in the country. Madagascar’s ecotourism industry, according to the TMP, is an integral part of success in the island nation, but must be reformed so that its products and structures are fundamentally sustainable.

Responsible tourism in Madagascar

A number of initiatives show the commitment Madagascar has shown to integrity in its ecotourism industry.

Go To Madagascar, a group of tourism operators and actors in tourism development from throughout Madagascar,  have  implemented a number of initiatives benefit the locals population and focused on preserving the island´s environment. Further, the Green-Label Madagascar initiative was started in 2008 to acknowledge those tourism entities who are making legitimate achievements in ecotourism, as well as to reduce greenwashing by those making false claims at being eco-friendly. These initiatives demonstrate just how highly Madagascar prioritises integrity in its ecotourism industry.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar.

Now, we all need to make sure we do our share. So when your lucky day arrives and you finally have a chance to visit this paradise in the Indian Ocean, try to ensure your presence contributes positively to the wellbeing of the island and helps protect its 14 species of lemur, 13,000 native flowering plants, 316 native reptiles and 109 native birds.

A good place to start is the Lambahoany Ecotourism centre. Apart from having a range of comfortable, affordable and ecological bungalows, this centre is part of the project Lambahoany for community development and ecotourism, and as such it´s a great repository for anything Madagascar – from eco tours to cultural activities and lessons on environmental issues affecting the island like renewal energy and safe drinking water. The centre also introduces visitors to the villages that work with the centre.

Andringitra National Park

Organised eco-tours to Madagascar are available through numerous organisations and they cater for all tastes and purposes, all of them showcasing the unique habitats and wildlife of Madagascar. Some of the Malagasy highlights include;

Parc National de Ranomafana is known for its hot springs and cheeky lemur-inhabited rainforest;

Camp Bandro at Lac Alaotra (if you can manage the 12 hours ride in a minibus), where you can glide across the island’s largest lake in a dug out canoe at dawn in search of the gentle bamboo lemur or Bandro;

The Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserve, which lies in the southern region of Madagascar’s largest natural reserve, Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve. The word “tsingy” refers to the pinnacles that dot the park’s limestone plateau. Located near the country’s west coast, the park  is home to seven lemur species, including the Deckens sifaka, a genus of lemur notable for its creamy white fur and black face.

Tsingy de Bemaraha

Lémurien Sifaka de von der Decken (Propithecus deckenii)

But if you want a little more purpose to your expedition, you can spend the day at Akany Avoko in Antananarivo, home to around 120 homeless kids. As well as funding their education, the charity provides the children with  craft workshops, where they can make bags, clothes and screen print t-shirts; a garden to learn how to grow vegetables; cookery classes; career lessons and training in sustainable energy.

women in Madagascar

You can also combine a nature-based adventure in Madagascar with valuable volunteer work. Earthwatch, for example, offers a 130-day volunteer research project tracking the island´s mysterious fosas in conjunction with the research station in Ankarafantsika National Park. Earthwatch advises that the work is strenuous, but some time is allotted for independent leisure activities.

Also, the Pioneer Madagascar project is a volunteering initiative whereby volunteers work on various projects in the field gaining an understanding of the resource needs of impoverished village communities and how this impacts on conservation efforts. Camping in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Madagascar,  volunteers work in a diversity of projects like constructing wells and latrines, building and equipping schools, health and environmental education in rural areas, forest conservation, and sustainable income-generating activities such as bee-keeping and community vegetable gardens.

For additional information on the project, you can visit Pioneer Madagascar Programme Guide.

And remember, if you get your chance, use it wisely and make sure this environment does not suffer any more unnecessary degradation.