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Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. Animal and plant Kingdom

Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, named after its spectacular lake and its main park highlight, it was already protected in 1927 due to its biological meaning (90% of the flora and fauna is endemic! Which means it’s occurring nowhere else on Earth - an incredible claim that places it high on any holiday itinerary) mainly as habitat for water birds, and became a National Park in 1966. Tsimanampetsotsa National Park, in the south west of Madagascar, is usually included as part of a «Madagascar Holidays» to the ‘Deep south’. A journey to Madagascar is incomplete without a stop at Tsimanampetsotsa National Park. Do you want to experience an absolutely unique animal and plant kingdom? Then this is your place to be.

A huge, impressing saline lake is located in the middle of Tsimanampetsotsa national park and serves as humid shelter for lots of birds. The name of lake, the Tsimanampetsotsa, literally means "the lake without dolphins". The presence of calcium sulphate in these waters makes fish life impossible. The different shades of color that pass from turquoise blue to emerald green are stunning. The site is also surrounded by limestone cliffs sheltering caves with stalagmites and stalactites and underground river of fresh water. Apart from the lake itself, there are three main landscapes inside the park: a calcareous plateau covered with dense xerophilous thickets (a locally endemic spiny forest), huge baobabs and banyan trees, and the sand dunes along the coast covered by a grassy blanket. The park also has numerous caves and sinkholes, which are the result of an underground stream.

Tsimanampetsotsa is a birders paradise. The park is an excellent site to observe birds. Bird lovers will get special interest here down in the South. We would like to repeat that the park is especially popular for its over 110 different bird species, including pink, greater and dwarf flamingos forming big colonies on the lake during the period from April to November. We may not get to see all of them but with much luck and perseverance, we will get to meet some like the gray headed lovebirds, the crested coots with the scientific name «Fulica cristata», grebes, the Madagascan plover, 5 coua species, Archbold´s newtonia, red-shouldered vanga or Lafresnaye´s vanga, five of eight native silky cockoos. Let us also quote the Madagascar Drongo, parrots, Newton hawks, Couas verreauxi or «couinae» the rarest plover or Madagascar «Charadrius thoracicus». During the dry season, we can observe flaming trees «Phoenicopterus ruber» around the lake, as well as other colorful birds.

Apart from birds, there are 12 species of mammals, among them the extremely rare and local endemic Grandidier´s mongoose and 5 lemur species. Among the 40-reptile species, the most significant one is the radiated turtle, which is endemic to this region and extremely endangered to extinction. Еhe large, but rare, radiated tortoise – considered the most beautiful tortoise in the world, which are «fady» (taboo or sacred) for local people. Sadly, invaded non-Malagasy people got those rare tortoises on their diet nowadays.

Although mainly a site for flamingos and other waterfowl, as well as the rare carnivore, Grandidier’s mongoose (Galidictis grandidieri), there is also a good selection of lemurs to be seen. The Mahafaly Plateau, with its dense covering of xeric vegetation, is home to the gray-brown mouse lemur (Microcebus griseorufus), fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius), white-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus), ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), and Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi). The famous ring-tailed lemurs (Catta) and Verreaux’s Sifaka jump everywhere and both make adorable photo motives, whilst at night cat-like fossas creep through trees.

The «blind fish cave» is a collapse in the cliff that allows access to the network of underground rivers. There lives a type of fish which as the evolution has lost its eyes, a curiosity of this part of Madagascar.

Plant lovers won’t be disappointed as well: Nearly 200 species grow inside the park, among them the legendary «mother of the forest» a huge Baobab - the second bearing logically the nickname of... baobab-grandmother. This protected area is composed of a coastal forest, a limestone plateau, with a sandy lake and several caves some of which are accessible. The spiny thickets eco-region in Madagascar is particularly astounding. Discover 2000-year-old baobabs, a ficus tree grove with roots that extend into a sinkhole river system. The forest in which one can admire the often-endemic vegetation of the southern Malagasy is a resource for its use in traditional medicine.  The banyan grotto is house for incredible tree, a gigantic ficus with aerial roots, surrounded by a fauna that comes to seek water and freshness, mainly turtles, parrots and lemurs. As we have said before, the three landscapes that constitute the park have produced three distinct vegetations: *The limestone plateau with raw mineral formed clumps of dense vegetation, some plants have short branches; *The limestone plateau on red sand formed a dense dry forest emerging up to 12m high; *The sand dune has formed 4m tall shrub with prickly species. Finally, to get an idea of the landscape flora of the reserve, let us name some of the following species: Thicket at Alluiaudia montagnacii, adansonia fony, plangiantha euphorbia and acacia sp pachypodium lamerei, Didierea trollii, kalanchoe beharensis, Acanthaceae....

The park offers four easy circuits to choose from, designed to suit all fit conditions and personal interests. One is more focused on bird watching, the other leads through the hills, caves and underground rivers that are home to a native blind fish. The third circuit is based on the plant world and the last one centres around lemurs.

*Tsiamaso circuit: this is the cave circuit, It consists of the discovery of the caves that house blind fish or «Typhleotris Madagascariensis». The interior parts of these caves are adorned with stalactites and stalagmites and also contain a rather frightening legend of the tribe Antambahoaka.

*Andaka circuit: a short walk along the lake shore special for flamingo lovers and other water birds. You will enjoy beautiful views and can to see many birds and plants.

*Emande circuit: Which means «irrigation», in this case, it means a source which supplies the lake. Throughout this tour, we learn the history of its people through the discovery of the ancient tombs. Lemurs, water and land birds, reptiles will be our guests on this beautiful site where we can also admire an overview of the lake.

*Andalamaike circuit: It is a special botanical walk through arid landscapes focused on baobabs, and where we will see various forms of adaptation of plants to drought, and also radiated turtles, land birds and the underground cave.

A vacation stop in Tsimanampetsotsa can also incorporate the Berenty Private Reserve and the Andohahela Special Reserve, all of which lie in a particularly beautiful region dominated by a unique semi-arid habitat of spiny forest and wetlands that give rise to a host of bizarre and highly-adapted plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.

Watch more photos about Tsimanampetsotsa National Park here.