Madagascar, Mauritius and Round Island – Part 3. (Ambanja)


Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri).

Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri)

I was beginning to think that Bill worked for the Ambanja Panther Chameleon Society, if indeed there is one.  Throughout the trip, Bill had waxed lyrical about how beautiful the Panthers in this area were, how they were so blue it made your eyes water, about how they only occurred in a very small area formed by a very slight valley only a few kilometers long, and how we just had to go see them.  It was of course a foregone conclusion that we would; however, by the time we were ready to take the trip I was all chameloned out to be perfectly honest.

I never thought I would hear myself say this but by day three, I had seen all of the Panthers I needed to see.  Jim and I had begun calling them “Tree Rats” they were so prolific.  We could easily find a minimum of a dozen in any given rural kilometer stretch of trees.  It wasn’t difficult.  These Ambanja Panthers had better be worth the four hour journey!

On the way to Ambanja we stopped only twice, once for lunch and once for a road-kill Madagascan Hognose Snake (Liohetrodon madagascarensis).   On both occasions, the reptiles we found would have made the journey worthwhile, regardless of whether we found a blue Panther Chameleon or not.  Whilst Jim paid for the food Bill and I made a quick search of the surrounding foliage for animals.  Almost immediately we found a beautiful pair of Giant Day Geckos (Phelsuma grandis madagascarensis) on a hut near the road.  Again they seemed to be posing for us as we took some fabulous shots.  By the time Jim had joined us we had found a live Hognose snake, which promptly proceeded to empty its scent glands over us.  The 4×4 smelt decidedly pungent for the rest of the journey!

Eventually we approached Ambanja and Bill asked Zack to slow the 4×4 down to a more leisurely speed.  “I’m not sure how far up this road they start, but you’ll see stunners within the next couple of miles.”  I was surprised he could be so specific, but sure enough, the first Panther we saw was by far the most beautiful to date.  And boy was it blue!  Darwin himself would have been hard pushed to explain why these animals were so spectacularly blue, and why they occurred only in this one small area.  Again, our camera shutters were white hot for some time until one by one we retired from the area like spent runners at the finish of a race.  Bill however was not finished.

“That one was nice, but they get better!” he said.
Now I thought he was having us on for sure!  We split up and began searching for the prime specimen Bill had assured us would be out there.  Male Panthers were indeed prolific here and each one seemed to be vying with the last for blue supremacy. As we searched we seemed to trip over other herps such as the countless Lined Plated Lizards (Zonosaurus quadrilineatus) which Jim was particularly taken with, as well as several female Panthers which were beautiful in their own right.  Hognose Snakes, Giant Day Geckos and an interesting selection of bugs were all uncovered and somehow seemed unimpressive against the search for the best blue Panther.  At the end of a couple of hours searching, opinion was split as to which had been the best animal we had seen.  In truth, there were so many stunning animals that it would have been difficult to pick just one.  We contented ourselves in the knowledge that instead of finding just one great animal, we had found a dozen which had each been stunning in their own right.

After spending a night in a fabulous sea side hotel we set off for home the next morning, stopping only occasionally to eat or to take tourist photographs.  It was indeed a long trip home and we were all exhausted as we neared Kings Lodge Base Camp.  Despite the journey, despite our exhaustion and despite the fact that Bill has been to the country countless times, it was he who suggested a slight detour to look for some different animals.  Unsurprisingly it was another trip up a mountain, (this time it was Amber Mountain) but thankfully, this time we could go by car.  By this time it was dark and so our headlights were needed to scan the roadside greenery for animals.  Crawling slowly up the slope in first gear we stopped occasionally to check out sleeping Panther and Ostalet’s chameleons.  However, after a day in Ambanja they seemed unremarkable by comparison and we didn’t even get out of the car.  Sitting here at my desk in England it seems almost perverse to say that I was unimpressed by a wild chameleon of any variety, but Madagascar had so spoiled us. Quite predictably Zack pointed out the two notable finds of the evening.  The first was a fabulously extravagant Blue Nose Chameleon (Calumma boettgeri).  Equipped with an impressive blue spotted nasal appendage this male was sporting his best mating colours.  Once again, we were too busy photographing this animal to notice Zack collecting not one, but a pair of Wills Chameleons (Furcifer willsii).  Not bad for fifteen minutes work!

When we finally put our cameras away we were all ready for sleep.  Tomorrow would be another long day of traveling and we had a ridiculously early start.  Having packed my bag and paid my bills I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Sad as I was to be leaving Madagascar, I was also excitedly looking forward to landing in Mauritius.  If the stories Jim told us were anything to go by, then we were in for yet more adventure.  Considering how much we had managed to fit into our trip already it seemed almost greedy to start the adventures all over again on another island, but I wasn’t complaining!

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~ by Tony's Desk on March 17, 2009.

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