Masoala National Park

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The Masoala National Park is located on the Masoala peninsula in the north-east of Madagascar. The peninsula is enclosed by the Indian Ocean in the east and Antongil Bay in the west. On and around the Masoala peninsula are several protected areas. The Masoala National Park combined with the Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve within the bay is the largest nature protected area in Madagascar.

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Masoala can be translated to the eye of the forest - maso meaning eye and ala meaning forest in Malagasy. According to history, the first inhabitants of Madagascar settled in the Masoala region. During the 15th and 16th century, slave traders stopped at Nosy Mangabe on their sails to Asia or Europe. Today, the Betsimisaraka remain the dominant ethnic group of the Antalaha and Maroantsetra region. The people of Maroantsetra call themselves Antimaroa.

The Masoala National Park was created on the 2nd March 1997 and the Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve on the 14th December 1965. Masoala National Park is one of six national parks on the east coast of Madagascar, all of which were declared a World Heritage in Danger by UNESCO under the combined name Rainforests of the Atsinanana in 2010.

The entire Masoala protected area with a total surface of 240,520ha is divided into four terrestrial sections and three marine zones:

  • The main land plot covers 227,020ha of forest
  • The detached land plot of Andranoanala covers 1,300ha
  • The detached land plot of Andranomainty covers 1,600ha
  • The detached land plot of Beankora covers 620ha
  • The marine plot of Tampolo covers 3,600ha
  • The marine plot of Masoala covers 3,300ha
  • The marine plot of Tanjona covers 3,100ha

The additional Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve has an area of 520ha.

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Masoala is the wettest region in Madagascar, with an average annual rainfall between 2,200mm and 7,000mm. The driest months span between September and December. The tropical humid and warm climate is typical of eastern Madagascar. In general, the temperature varies between 24°C in January and 21°C in August.

The Masoala peninsula is very uneven in its northern and western parts. Further south, the slopes are less steep and a coastal plain stretches between Tampolo and Cap Masoala. The east side descents to a coastal plain with a width of up to 15km. Along the coast rocks alternate with sandy bays and reefs are located not far from the shore.

The particularity of Masoala is its terrestrial ecosystem, which is characterised by rainforests ranging from 0m to 1,300m above sea level. Masoala is one of the rare regions of Madagascar where the edge of the forest literally meets the sea. A fragile forest corridor joins the forest of the Masoala peninsula with the Anjanaharibe-Sud Special Reserve and the Makira Plateau. The existence of the corridor is essential to prevent Masoala from becoming an isolated ecosystem in terms of wildlife.

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The marine and coastal ecosystem is characterised by several forest and rock patches, sandy bays, coral reefs, seagrass beds and narrow strips of mangrove forest.

In terms of biodiversity, Masoala is one of the richest regions of Madagascar. 50% of Madagascar's plant species and more than 50% of Madagascar's mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles can be found here.

The Masoala protected area is a very important water reserve for the region, as it supplies water for the rice fields and is a source of drinking water. The development of ecotourism benefits the local population, generating jobs such as guides, porters, craftsmen and merchants.

Conservation targets

Despite its strategic role, Masoala is threatened by human activities:

  • Dense humid forest 0m - 800m: Land clearing, illegal logging of precious timber
  • Eastern coastal forest: Highly threatened due to its proximity to villages
  • Reef: Erosion and silting threaten the coast, seagrass beds and mangroves

Protected species are highly threatened by poaching within and outside the protected area:

Ecosystems of Masoala National Park

Given its vastness, the Masoala National Park has several types of habitats in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems:

  • Dense humid forest 0m - 400m, dense humid forest 400m - 800m, dense humid forest 800m - 1,200m, dense humid forest 1,200m - 1,300m
  • Island forest (in addition to the Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve, there are ten other forested islands surrounding the Masoala peninsula)
  • Eastern coastal forest
  • Flooded eastern coastal forest
  • Coral reef
  • Mangrove
  • Herbarium zone

These habitats can be grouped into three categories:

  • Dense humid forest
  • Eastern coastal forest
  • Marine environment

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Fauna

Birds

Until 2008, 102 species of birds were identified in Masoala, of which over 60% are endemic to Madagascar. Different inventories led to the rediscovery of the Eutriorchis astur (Madagascar serpent eagle) in 1993. The Madagascar Serpent Eagle is considered the rarest bird of prey in the world and Masoala is currently the only place where this species has been observed on several occasions.

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Masoala is also the home of the Tyto soumagnei (Madagascar red owl), which was first discovered in the forest of the Ambanizana region on the Masoala peninsula. The Madagascar red owl is one of the rarest birds in Madagascar and one of the most endangered species of owls in the world.

Fourteen bird species are considered vulnerable and threatened in Masoala:

Scientific name English name
Eutriorchis astur Madagascar serpent eagle Endemic to Madagascar.
Accipiter henstii Henst's goshawk Endemic to Madagascar.
Coua serriana Red-breasted coua Endemic to Madagascar.
Atelornis pittoides Pitta-like ground-roller Species belonging to a family endemic to Madagascar.
Phyllastrephus cinereiceps Grey-crowned greenbul Endemic to Madagascar.
Oriolia bernieri Bernier's vanga Endemic to Madagascar.
Pseudobias wardi Ward's flycatcher Endemic to Madagascar.
Tyto soumagnei Madagascar red owl Endemic to Madagascar.
Lophotibis cristata Madagascar crested ibis Endemic to Madagascar.
Mesitornis unicolor Brown mesite Rare species belonging to a family endemic to Madagascar.
Randia pseudozosterops Rand's warbler Endemic to Madagascar.
Euryceros prevostii Helmet vanga Endemic to Madagascar.
Brachypteracias leptosomus Short-legged ground-roller Species belonging to a family endemic to Madagascar.
Brachypteracias squamiger Scaly ground-roller Species belonging to a family endemic to Madagascar.

These results reflect only inventories on forest ecosystems. If adding up all the seabird species that live on the beaches and rocky shores, one can count far more than a hundred species of birds in Masoala.

Lemurs

Ten species of lemurs were identified in the Masoala National Park:

  • Two diurnal (day active) species
  • Eight nocturnal (night active) species

The species Varecia variegata can be found on Nosy Mangabe and the endemic subspecies Varecia rubra on the Masoala peninsula.

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Four of the lemur species found on Masoala are recorded as endangered on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature:

Scientific name English name Specifities
Varecia rubra Red ruffed lemur A subspecies which can be found only on the peninsula.
Allocebus trichotis Hairy-eared dwarf lemur An extremely rare species that was previously known only in three other locations: Zahamena, Vohidrazana and Mananara.
Daubentonia madagascariensis Aye-aye The strangest mammal on Madagascar and the sole representative of the Daubentoniidae family.
Phaner furcifer Masoala fork-crowned lemur The rainforest of Masoala is one of the rare places where this species can be found.

Carnivores

Seven species of the Viverridae familiy were identified in Masoala. They are all endemic to Madagascar, except the Viverricula indica (Small Indian civet).

Since the 1970s, Masoala is the only place where the Salanoia concolorb (Brown-tailed mongoose) was sighted. This species is the least known of Madagascar's carnivores. The already rare two carnivores Cryptoprocta ferox (Fossa) and Eupleres goudotii (Falanouc) suffer under the high predation pressure of the primary forest by the local population.

Rodents

The forests of Masoala are also rich or even richer in rodents than other forests of the eastern slopes of Madagascar. Nine rodent species were inventoried so far in the Masoala National Park.

The introduced and invasive species Rattus rattus (Black Rat) was currently found in three locations: Andranobe, Ambohitsitondroina and Ambery. Nesomys audeberti (White-bellied nesomys) is known only to Masoala where this species is relatively common.

Insectivores

Ten species of the insect-eating Tenrecidae family (tenrecs) can be found in Masoala.

Insectivores are more common on the western side of the peninsula than on the eastern side. The Tenrec ecaudatus (Tailless tenrec) appears to be exceptionally rare in the primary forests of the Masoala peninsula compared to other regions of Madagascar's east coast.

Bats

14 species of bats were identified on the peninsula.

A special study on the eating habits of the Pteropus rufus (Madagascan flying fox) showed the importance of this animal in pollination and therefore the dispersal of seeds and plants.

Boar

The wild boar Potamocherus larvatus (Bushpig) can be found on the Masoala peninsula.

Marine Mammals

The four cetacean species observed in Masoala include:

One species of sirenia, the dugongs, also exists in the region.

Reptiles and Amphibians

The few inventories carried out in this area have identified 60 species of reptiles and 44 species of amphibians. For Nosy Mangabe 30 species of reptiles and 22 species of amphibians were listed.

As in many other locations in Madagascar, there are many reptiles and amphibians on Masoala which have not even been identified or documented yet.

An overview of the reptiles and amphibians of Masoala:

4 species of turtles were identified in Masoala. These species are considered vulnerable and their numbers have declined significantly in the world.

Turtles of Masoala:

Fish

An inventory of freshwater fish took place at the following three locations: Andranobe, Ambohitsitondroinan'Ambanizana and the Iagnobe basin. The results show the importance and uniqueness of the region.

  • 23 species divided into 19 genera and 12 families of fish were identified in these rivers.
  • Two of the species belonging to the Bedotia and Rheocles genera were identified for the first time.

The Oreochromis niloticus (Nile tilapia) were also observed. This species of fish is considered harmful to native species. The scarcity of introduced species and the absence of Poeciliidae family, Osteoglossidae family and Cyprinidae family is recognisable in Masoala.

The population of freshwater fish in Masoala represents approximately 30.6% of the recorded species in Madagascar.

Saltwater fish:

  • 112 species were recorded around the peninsula in 1995.
  • A recent study in the three marine sections (Tanjona, Masoala and Tampolo) as well as Cap Est showed the presence of 134 fish species.
  • 208 saltwater fish species were identified around the peninsula.
  • During monitoring missions in the three marine sections, updated data revealed the existence of 346 species of reef fish around the Masoala peninsula.

Insects

Insects were carefully studied on the peninsula. For example, throughout inventories 135 species of butterflies were identified, out of which 84 are endemic to Madagascar. Four butterfly species were newly discovered.

213 ant species were collected just in the western part of Masoala. Due to the current studies by other teams, that list might even be extended. Masoala might be the ant-richest site in the world!

In addition there are also:

  • 140 ichneumon species, such as wasps
  • 97 species of beetles
  • 32 species of tiger beetles

Corals

41 coral genera were identified in Masoala. There is a relatively large difference between the reefs on the Indian Ocean side and the reefs on the Antongil Bay side. The reefs in the east and particularly those around the bays of Ngontsy and Ambodilaitry are the richest and the most developed. The least wealthy reef is on the side of the Antongil Bay around Tampolo.

Another study in the three marine sections of Tanjona, Masoala and Tampolo as well as at Cap Est showed the presence of 114 coral species and 104 mollusc species.

The most dominant genus of coral is Acropora, which reflects a good reef condition as members of this group are very fragile and sensitive to degradation.

Todate these inventories has only been made in shallow waters, so a further inventory in the outer reefs will reveal the true wealth of biodiversity of the coastal waters around the Masoala peninsula.

Mollusca (Sea Snails and Slugs)

78 species of Gastropoda Prosobranchia were identified around Masoala, one of which is Drupella cornus (Horn drupe) - a species of sea snail. However, there is a significant rarity of some decorative species such as Charonia tritonis (Triton's trumpet), Chicoreus ramosus (Ramose murex) and Turbo marmoratus (Marbled turban).

20 species of bivalve and four species of cephalopod were inventoried within the three marine plots (Tanjona, Masoala and Tampolo).

In the group of echinoderms and arthropods, 16 species of sea urchins, starfish and brittle stars as well as 27 species of sea cucumbers were identified. The multiple-armed starfish Acanthaster planci (Crown-of-thorns starfish) was encountered only around Ambohomahery.

The best fauna most visible to tourists

Scientific name English name / Malagasy name Description Where to find When to find
Varecia rubra Red ruffed lemur. Rust-coloured lemur. In the lowland forest of Masoala. All year round.
Euryceros prevostii Helmet vanga / Siketribe Bird with large blue beak. In the lowland forest of Masoala. All year round.
Daubentonia madagascariensis Aye-aye Nocturnal lemur, the strangest mammal of Madagascar. Nosy Mangabe All year round.
Uroplatus fimbriatus Common flat-tailed gecko / Tahafisaka Nocturnal gecko, lives in the trees. Nosy Mangabe All year round.


Flora

With the exception of palms, ferns, seaweed and some other species, no systematic inventory targeting plants have been made by 2008 in Masoala. However, there is some botanical information:

Botanical surveys within the peninsula conducted an extreme wealth of flora and uniqueness of vegetation in this region:

  • More than 600 plant species in over 100 families
  • About 400 genera were identified on the peninsula

The most represented families are Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Clusiaceae, Sapotaceae and Flacourtiaceae. Over 400 species can be found on Nosy Mangabe.

A study of the mangroves of Masoala counted seven tree species belonging to seven genera. The most common families are:

  • Avicenniaceae, for example Avicennia marina (Grey mangrove or White mangrove)
  • Meliaceae or Mahogany family, for example Carapa obovata
  • Rhizophoraceae, for example Bruguiera gymnorhiza, Ceriops candolleana, Rhizophora mucronata (Loop-root mangrove)
  • Sonneratiaceae, for example Sonneratia alba

Inventories of Pteridophyta (ferns) around Andranobe, Ambohitsitondroinan'Ambanizana and on Nosy Mangabe have demonstrated that Masoala is the centre of fern diversity of northeastern Madagascar. 155 varieties distributed in 50 genera were collected, representing 27.3% of the ferns of Madagascar. 45 species were surveyed on Nosy Mangabe.

In the marine plot of Tanjona nine species of marine phanerogams were inventoried, as well as the sea grass species Syringodium isoetifolium, Thalassia hemprichii (turtle grass), Halophila ovalis (paddle weed) and Diplantera sp.

99 species of seaweed were identified, including 40 species of red algae, 34 species of green algae and 25 species of brown algae.

A botanical survey in different areas on the Masoala peninsula revealed that Masoala is one of the richest regions in terms of palm trees in Madagascar. 50 species of palms were identified, out of which about a dozen can only be found on Masoala. Some of them include:

Almost half of the Malagasy species of Bignoniaceae grow on the Masoala peninsula. Four types of Bignoniaceae were inventoried, all of which are endemic to Madagascar. They are:

  • Rhodocolea
  • Ophicolea
  • Colea
  • Phyllarthron

Other interesting plants are:

  • Nepenthes masoalensis - pitcher plant
  • Species of the Geosiridaceae family which are endemic to Madagascar, such as Geosiris aphylla
  • Three species of Rhopalocarpus of the Sphaerosepalaceae family
  • Some members of the Sarcolaenaceae family, such as Rhodolaena altivola

The best flora most visible to tourists

Scientific name English name / Malagasy name Description Where to find When to find
Nepenthes masoalensis Pitcher plant Carnivorous plant At the detached land plot of Andranoanala near Cap Est. All year round.
  Various species of palm tree   In the lowland forest of the west coast of the park. All year round.

How to get there

There are two ways to reach the park, either via Maroantsetra or via Antalaha. The easiest and fastest mode of transport is by plane. Air Madagascar operates scheduled flights to Maroantsetra and Antalaha.

A car ride from Tamatave to Maroantsetra along the RN5 takes about two days (400km) mostly on a very bad road, which is often closed due to cyclones from December to March. Coming from Antalaha, there is a 45km stretch to Andranoanala (Cap Est). During the dry season the ride takes about four hours by 4x4 car, while in the rainy season some bridges may be impassable and rivers must be crossed by pirogue.

Alternatively and if coming by Tamatave, it is possible to reach Maroantsetra by sea. Depending on the season, cargo boats leave three to six times a week from Tamatave. The journey by sea takes between one and two days.

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Guides and entrance fees

The park office is located in Maroantsetra. There you can inform yourself about the Masoala National Park, various tours, guides and their rates and on-site accommodation. At the office you can also obtain your entry permit for the park.

There are 20 guides working in the park. They all speak French and Malagasy and are educated in guiding techniques, biodiversity and the history of the area.

The admission fee for visiting the park for foreign tourists is 45,000 Ariary per day, children pay 25,000 Ariary per day (prices 2015). Guides are obligatory. The fee for a guide depends on the chosen tour (circuit). There are also porters available. The fee for a porter on the Masoala peninsula is 12,000 Ariary per day, including his meals and accommodation.

The income derived from entrance fees is used to finance several microprojects in the area, such as building of wells, a market place, a library and tree nursery. Additionally to these projects, villagers receive education in the cultivation of vanilla and crop storage.

Recommended guides based in Maroantsetra:

Circuits (Tours)

Nosy Mangabe Special Reserve Circuit

Easy to medium circuit, 5km from Maroantsetra. The visit can be between 3 hours and 2 days (including an overnight stay).
What to see?
The 520ha large island of Nosy Mangabe is located 15 minutes by speed boat from Maroantsetra. The reserve offers rainforest, a waterfall and a beach. In the north at the historical site of Plage des Hollandais (Dutch beach) you can see inscriptions carved in the rocks by Dutch sailors dating back to the 16th century. Cultural sites include Betsimisaraka tombs. The fauna and flora can easily be observed. You can spot geckos, the mantela or the Aye-aye, which is one of five lemur species on the island.
Licensed guide: 24,000 Ariary (1-5 people), trainee guide: 18,000 Ariary (1-5 people)
Camping: 2,000 Ariary per tent/night, camp shelter: 5,000 Ariary per tent/night

Cap Est Circuit

Easy to medium circuit. 40km/50km from Maroantsetra to Cap Est, about 1.5 to 2 hours by speed boat.
What to see?
This is one of the few places in Madagascar where the primary forest, which consists of lowland forest and coastal forest, reaches the sea. The dense humid forest hits the coast along kilometres of beach.
Licensed guide: 24,000 Ariary (1-5 people), trainee guide: 18,000 Ariary (1-5 people)
Camp site Andrakadilagna: 2,000 Ariary per tent/night, camp shelter: 5,000 Ariary per tent/night

Ambodilaitry Marine Reserve Circuit

Easy circuit. 60km from Maronatsetra, about 3.5 to 4 hours by speed boat.
What to see?
At this circuit you can relax on the white beach, swim in the ocean and turquoise lagoon as well as discover the coral reef.
Licensed guide: 24,000 Ariary (1-5 people), trainee guide: 18,000 Ariary (1-5 people)
Camping at the shore of the marine park: 2,000 Ariary per tent/night, camp shelter: 5,000 Ariary per tent/night

Circuit of the detached land plot Andranoanala (Cap Est)

Easy circuit. 45km from Antalaha, about 4 hours by 4x4 car.
What to see?
This circuit takes you through the coastal forest to the discover carnivorous plant Nepenthes masoalensis, also named pitcher plant. The coastal forest is a completely different type of forest. In Andranoanala, there are also swamps and flooded forest.
Licensed guide: 30,000 Ariary (1-5 people), trainee guide: 26,000 Ariary (1-5 people). The guide comes from Antalaha. The fee for the guide includes his travel costs, meals and accommodation.

Trekkking from Maroantsetra - Antalaha or Cap Est

Average to challenging circuit. 100km to 120km from Antalaha to Maroantsetra (3 to 5 days), 100km to 120km from Maroantsetra to Cap Est (5 to 7 days).
What to see?
A hike from Antalaha to Maroantsetra or from Maroantsetra to Cap Est takes you through small farming villages and dense humid rainforest. You will see vanilla and cloves cultivation and meet the villagers.
Licensed guide: 24,000 Ariary (1-5 people), trainee guide: 18,000 Ariary (1-5 people). An additional 30,000 Ariary apply for the guide's return journey.
Camp site Ambatoledama: 2,000 Ariary per tent/night, camp shelter: 5,000 Ariary per tent/night.

Habits and customs in the region

Tsaboraha is a traditional custom widespread in the region. This 3-day long ceremony brings together the entire community and strengthens social bonds.

After the family has obtained permission from ancestral spirits, men, women and children of the region participate in the preparation of the ritual. After each step, large quantities of betsabetsa (local rum) are distributed.

Men will cut the wood that children collected in the surrounding forest, while the women prepare the rice.

Young men of the village participate in tolon'omby, a form of bullfighting with a strong young bull which is marked with a white spot on the forehead. Once tamed, the bull is taken to the fijoroana (a sacred place) and will be sacrificed the following day after a festive evening and the search for a sacred tree during night. After the killing the body of the bull is shared and prepared for a feast that can bring together up to a thousand people.

Rasariagna is a kind of joro (glorification) by the Betsimisaraka to commemorate the good deeds of their ancestors. They do this to thank their ancestors and to show them that they are not forgotten. The rasariagna always takes place on a Saturday.

Tsikafara is a kind of joro that the Betsimisaraka perform when they are faced with difficulty. Before an exam or any test, they will make an offering to the ancestors to ask for their support in solving the task without obstacles. This vow is made in private or in public. If the task is successful the vow must be fulfilled.

These events are always characterised by the sacrification of a zebu followed by a feast with family, friends and villagers. The ancestors are omnipresent at all times.

Cultural highlights in the region

  • Historical: According to historians, the first people who came to Madagascar settled around Antongil Bay. During the 15th and 16th century, slave traders used Nosy Mangabe as a stopover during their sails to Asia or Europe.
  • Sacred places: Anjagnaharibe (on the Masoala tip). A sacred place where entry is strictly regulated by a local community organisation and which is respected by many families of the Masoala peninsula.
  • Legend: Maevarano is the story of a nobleman from the west, who in revenge for his brother gave food to the crocodile descendants of his slaves. That was the birth of the Zafirabay clan.

Fady - What not to do in the region

  • Each family lives according to their own fady's. But in general it is forbidden to work on the fields on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Chameleons are not appreciated, although they are highly endangered.

Accommodation in the park

There are various camp sites in the park. However, please note that the park does not rent out camping equipment. It is possible to rent camping equipment in Maroantsetra and Antalaha. Beside camping, it is also possible to stay in the simple house of a villager.

Tampolodge Vertical rectangle 01 animation email.gif

Tampolodge (9 bungalows)
Tampolo
Tel: +261 (0)33 1133870 (mobile) or +261 (0)32 4021798 (mobile)
Email: tampolodge@yahoo.fr
Website: www.tampolodge.com

Masoala Forest Lodge (6 safari-style tents)
Tampolo
Tel: +261 (0)20 2226114
Email: mea@moov.mg
Website: www.masoalaforestlodge.com

Ecolodge Chez Arol (8 bungalows)
Ambodiforaha, near Tampolo
Tel: +261 (0)33 1290277 (mobile) or +261 (0)32 4088902(mobile)
Email: masoala@free.fr
Website: www.arollodge.free.fr/home.htm

Google Newsfeed

Below are links to various articles via Google News using the keyword Masoala:

Anti-trafficking activist held without trial in Madagascar - Mongabay.com
08-May-2017 18:17
Half a world away, Madagascar fascinates - The San Diego Union-Tribune
11-Feb-2017 02:20
Cybersicherheit im Zoo Zürich - IT-ZOOM
23-May-2017 08:08
Il mondo a 360 gradi: i paesaggi più fotogenici - TGCOM
04-May-2017 04:00
Bois de rose de Masoala – Quatorze personnes sous mandat de dépôt - L'Express de Madagascar
18-Feb-2017 05:01
Bois de rose à Masoala – «Lumina» appartiendrait à la société «Tsaralaza» - L'Express de Madagascar
11-Feb-2017 04:58
Zucchetti statt Penne - Tages-Anzeiger Online
21-May-2017 22:24
Cap Masoala – Des bois de rose saisis - L'Express de Madagascar
09-Feb-2017 05:58
Navire arraisonné à Masoala – Une « gros bonnet » en détention préventive - L'Express de Madagascar
10-Feb-2017 05:41
Three killed as cyclone Enawo batters Madagascar - Daily Mail
07-Mar-2017 22:09


Additional information