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Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. The surprise packet

The Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park is a surprise packet; most visitors just drive on by and don't realize what they're missing. Zombitse-Vohibasia is a small jewel in the middle of the sparse gem stone district of the South. But the park is all that remains of the once expansive dry deciduous forests that were dominant in southern Madagascar. The park's relict forest shelters an astounding flora and fauna, including 85 recorded bird species and eight lemur species. The Zombitse - Vohibasia National Park is known to be the showcase of the rich birdlife of Madagascar. In 2001, BirdLifeInternational became aware of the region and entitled it an eminently worth protecting endemic bird area (EBA). Park offers a relatively rare opportunity to all ornithologists and bird enthusiasts to learn about the most beautiful birds of Madagascar. Most of the birds in the park exist nowhere else. Lemurs are also an attraction here. Zombitse-Vohibasia is currently the only area for seeing the newly-described Zombitse sportive lemur (Lepilemur hubbardorum), which can easily be found even during the day as it peers out from daytime sleeping sites. Concerning plants, Zombitse even has plenty to offer: several more than 500 years old baobabs (Adansonia za) can be marveled at here, and lots of orchid flower during the beginning of the rainy season. Typical plants of southern Madagascar like pachypods and Didiraceae are of course part of the park, too.

By visiting this park, you can be sure that you were offered an almost unique opportunity. Although this national park is quite unknown and lesser visited compared to its neighbor, Isalo National Park, it is really worth a visit. It’s not only a place for bird lovers!

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park covers 363 km² of dry forest, marshes, and savannas. It consists of three areas: Zombitse, Vohibasia and Isoky Vohimena. The compounded name of this national park derives from two of three areas belonging to the park. Zombitse means as much as „dense forest“ and thus names the dry forest of the national park. Vohibasia is the savannah in front of this forest and means „hill of pistols“, which is attributed to conflicts between the people of the South and Merina of the central highlands some centuries ago. Virtually, Zombitse-Vohibasia acts as a transition zone between the dry and the humid forests of Madagascar. Therefore the flora is especially rich within the protected area. The wildlife here is more prolific than in Isalo National Park and all round trails through the national park are easy to walk. Of course there are plenty of opportunities to elongate your visit to a whole day without a problem.

Despite the prevalence of birds in the park, lemurs occupy an important place. The star of the forest is the nimble, noisy, the rare western fork-marked lemur (Phaner pallescens), which you may manage to see if you’re lucky and get to do a night walk, though it’s almost impossible to photograph as it bobs and dashes through the branches. Park is home of several groups of relatively habituated Verreaux’ sifakas, known as the dancer lemur, which are used to human and thus can be watched in only few meters distance. It bears its name well since it moves laterally with its very special jump. Also the most notable lemurs are the lemur Catta, and red-fronted brown lemur (Eulemur rufifrons). The latter is more or less small. As for the ring-tailed lemur, with its larger size, it is easily recognized with its ringed tail. Night hikes offer opportunities to see gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius), and Coquerel’s giant mouse lemur (Mirza coquereli), in addition to the Zombitse sportive lemur. The latter is nocturnal but is commonly seen resting in tree hollows by day. The Hubbard’s or Zombitse sportive lemur (Lepilemur hubbardorum) – only identified in 2006 and endemic to the forest (the sportive lemurs here were formerly considered to be the red-tailed species, L. ruficaudatus). Once you get your eye in, Hubbard’s are easy to see by day, peering – orange-eyed and splay-fingered – from their low-level tree holes.

As we have already noted, the Zombitse park is a sanctuary for birds in Madagascar – almost half of Madagascar’s endemic birds can be seen there. By visiting this park, you can be sure that you were offered an almost unique opportunity to meet with many birds of Madagascar. This park is home to over 85 species of known birds. The particularity of this park lies in the fact that almost 40% of these species are visible only in Madagascar. You will also note that some of these birds are endemic to the park itself like the Phyllastrephus apperti which is only known here. Then, in the park of Zombitse, we can also see the Sakalava Weaver, Couas... the Ankoay that is specific to the western region. Despite the presence of these dozens of species of bird, you should know that it is the Greenbul Appert, a very enchanting songbird, that makes the reputation of the park. It is real prize – if this forest were to disappear, so to would this species as it survives nowhere else on the planet. Besides Appert’s greenbul (Bernieria apperti), which only lives here and nowhere else, you can see Vangas (Xenopirostris ssp.), giant coucals (Coua gigas), Madagascar hawk owl (Ninox superciliaris), Kittlitz’ plovers (Charadrius pecuarius), Madagascar sandgrouse (Pterocles personatus) and Lantz’s brush-warbler (Nesillas lantzii). Commonly sighted birds are the grand and Coquerel's coua, white-browed owl, black parrot and blue vanga. If you want to meet as much as possible of the 85 species which live here, get out of the bed early and be in the park at sunrise.

In addition to birds, the Zombitse park also contains different types of reptiles, endemic or not. Among them, we note boas, stunning chameleons and multicolored geckos. In sum, there are 33 species of reptiles. You can spot a green-and-gold colored endemic lizard of the southwest, the Standing’s day gecko (Phelsuma standingi), usually seen in pairs on larger tree trunks, other reptiles like the Dumeril’s boa (Acranthophis dumerili) or small Madagascar iguanas (Chalarodon madagascariensis) belong to the national park’s inventory, too. The Zombitse - Vohibasia National Park presents eight species of frogs including Mantellas, endemic to Madagascar. In spring, countless colorful butterflies are attracted by mineral soil.

In terms of floral species, the Zombitse forest has a relatively high rate of biodiversity. The forest is composed of unique and varied species of plants, some of which are endemic. The endemism within these forests is very high. Among families that have a strong representation in the park, we note the Euphorbiaceae, the Acanthaceae, the Apocynaceae... As it is located in southern part of Madagascar, the Zombitse - Vohibasia park notes the presence of two species of didiéracées typical of this region. These succulents a few meters, dominating almost the entire forest of, exist only in this region of the island. Visiting this park also promises a meeting with the different species of baobab such as the dwarf baobabs, the Za baobabs, the baobabs Grandidier... Other species in the park include the Acacias, the Aloe, the Ficus, the Pandianus, Dalbergia sp...

The dominant population on the periphery of the Zombitse - Vohibasia National Park includes the Tandroy tribes and especially the Mahafaly. In meeting the latter, you will have the pleasure of contemplating the works of art adorning their tombs. The Mahafaly tombs are characterized by their patterns and colors and the presence of aloalos.

Watch more photos about Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park here.