FINDING THE FOSA OF KIRINDY FOREST – MADAGASCAR

Fosa of Kirindy Forest

Finding the Fosa of Kirindy Forest. Everything you need to know and what to expect when searching for Madagascar’s largest carnivore.

We knew that visiting Madagascar would guarantee Lemurs and Chameleons, but there was one other creature we really wanted to find and that was the elusive Fosa. After finishing our Tsiribihina River to Tsingy de Bemaraha and the Alleè Des Baobabs trip in Morondava we made our own way back up past the Alleè Des Baobabs to Kirindy Forest (Reserve Forestiere de Kirindy.) The best place in the country to see the rarely seen Fosa.

Our journey started early from Morondova at a local taxi brousse station. When we arrived, we were quickly escorted over to an adjacent station and informed that the bus we would need to catch was to Belo-sur-Tsiribihina and departed from here. The man who had intercepted at the station was effectively a ticket tout and we were skeptical. But, standing at the ticket booth, we confirmed we were at the correct station and that the bus would drop us off mid-route at Kirindy.

The tout, who obviously thought his luck was in, claimed the price was 25,000ar p/p. Having already checked with our hotel that morning how much we should pay (always do that in Madagascar,) we knew we were being overcharged. We relayed this to the tout and offered 10,000ar p/p – the price our hotel staff had suggested we should pay. Once the 10,000p/p price was agreed the tout hurried off in search of more business.

The bus itself was not the 14-18 seater taxi-brousse we expected, but a larger 40 seat minibus. We didn’t have to wait long before the bus was deemed full enough to leave. And by that, it meant there were about 70 people on board. Just on the outskirts of Morondava, we made a quick stop just to squeeze another 15 or so more people. Then, just as we left the tarmac for the dirt road up towards the Alleè Des Baobabs, we stopped one final time to squeeze another 15 people on.

Despite the sheer number of people packed into the bus (approx. 100), the journey itself was actually ok, just a bit cramped. Being the only westerners on board, we did attract a little attention from those onboard and a few stares from those we passed by. Everyone seemed really friendly with lots of smiles and Imbi even had a small child fall asleep on her shoulder.

ox cart on the way to Kirindy Forest

Having already driven the same route in the opposite direction the day prior, we knew we needed to get off the bus on the main road by a track leading to the park entrance. However, trying to communicate that was a little problematic. Sure enough, we were dropped off at the Sacred Baobab by the Kirindy Hotel.

That was 2 km short of the start of the 5 km track, leading to the parks entrance and the Ecolodge where we were staying. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t have bothered us. But by now it was now the middle of the day and about 35°. After walking around 4 km down the dry, dusty and shadeless track, we were feeling pretty moist and tired. Suddenly, we heard some rustling in the trees nearby. We were so excited to see a family of 3 Verreaux’s Sifaka swinging towards us.

Verreaux's Sifaka Kirindy

The inquisitive group stayed with us only meters away for about half an hour. Being October our visit had coincided with baby sifaka’s too. We were so excited to see one amongst them! Suddenly all of our concerns of heatstroke were forgotten! Feeling re-energised, we finished the last kilometre to the Ecolodge with a little spring in our step.

Verreaux Sifaka Family in Krindy Forest

Upon arriving, we quickly checked into our dorm and set about arranging a night and morning walk for the following day, before having an incredibly refreshing beer at the restaurant. Soon after, a group of Red-Fronted Brown Lemurs arrived, scampering around the Ecolodge grounds looking for easy food. That was our first real experience of just how habituated a lot of the wildlife in Madagascar has become and sadly, how little was being done to try and keep the animals ‘wild.’ They quickly made their way over to the bins and rummaged around whilst a few day tourists popped over for some selfies and close-up phone photo’s. Thankfully the lemurs didn’t hang around too long before climbing up into the surrounding fruiting trees to feast on a more natural diet.

red-fronted brown lemur in Kirindy

For a couple of bird enthusiasts, there were also lots of birds flying around to keep the camera busy. Even just in the area around the Ecolodge we saw plenty. The highlights being the the Giant Coua, Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher, and Madagascar Magpie Robin.

After all that excitement and running around, we had only just retreated to the restaurant for a break, when we spotted a Fosa. Sadly, it made its way straight over to staff eating area. It sprang up on the bench to drink the dishwater that had been left out in the open, before going over to the bins and literally climbing in headfirst and pulling out chicken bones and food wrappers.

We had read there were a couple of ‘brazen’ resident Fosa brothers who frequented the Eco-Lodge area and that there would be a good chance of seeing them. But, we hadn’t imagined they would literally be climbing into the bins and drinking from the dishwater. What saddened us the most was that a lot of the tourists thought it was great. Thy rushed up to take pictures and cheer it on. We waited patiently for the Fosa to get its fill before it moved on to rest in the shade of the trees.

fosa at Kirindy Forest

Not long after, the two fosa brothers turned up and unsurprisingly also jumped up to rummage through the bins. It really was saddening to see. When we compared the conservation practices taking place before us, to those in the game parks in East and Southern mainland Africa, where there are heavy-lidded sealed bins and fines for feeding animals, we were shocked. The guides and park staff had no concerns about it all and made no effort to prevent it.

To our horror, when we followed the fosa brothers out of the eco-lodge area in the hope could watch them in a slightly more natural setting, they led us to the waste tip. Literally, right in the middle of the park on the edge of the eco-lodge area was a large unfenced area, where the staff tipped out the bins, food scraps etc. And not surprisingly, that was the fosa’s favourite place.

Kirindy Forest Fosa

We went to Kirindy, as we had read it was the best place to see Fosa. And, that during the mating season (November/December) the chance of a sighting was even higher, as the ‘elusive’ Fosa are less shy in pursuit of females. After speaking to some guides, they explained that they very rarely see any fosas on guided walks in the park itself. They are only really seen at the eco-lodge. They also explained that during the mating period the chances of seeing them were, in fact, lower. This is because the Fosa venture further afield to find the females.

The reality is Kirindy’s main drawcard is the Fosa. And, with many tour groups making short visits here en-route to/from Alleè Des Baobabs, if the Fosa are easily seen, it keeps the majority of tourists happy and the guides well tipped. For us, it was actually a sad example of exactly what conservation meant at Kirindy! This may sound overly critical, but we were shocked by what we saw. We understand there is a fine balance and that without the tourist money the wildlife here would likely be in a far worse predicament. But we’d love to have seen a little more sustainable conservation practices in place promoting more responsible tourism.

Another fosa at Kirindy Forest

As the sun disappeared we headed off on our night walk. As the park is privately owned and not a national park, night walks are allowed in the park itself. Unfortunately, after a sudden unexpected influx of last minute tour vehicles, there weren’t enough guides for private groups, so we were in a group of 8. We actually saw lots of nocturnal animals on this night walk. This included several Grey Mouse Lemur, Fork-crowned Lemur, Western Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur and the Red-Tailed Sportive Lemur. But the larger group size made the experience difficult to enjoy. Clambering past each other often scared the wildlife off before we were really able to see anything too clearly.

In the morning our guided walk was a far more enjoyable experience. Four of us set off with our guide. It wasn’t long before we came across a family of Verreaux’s Sifaka. This was shortly followed by a troop of Red-Fronted Brown Fronted lemurs resting in the trees after a feed.

Verreaux Sifaka in Kirindy Forest
Sleeping Red-fronted brown lemur

For nine months of the year this park experiences little to no rain. During this time of Kirindy’s dry deciduous forest is brown and its trees pretty much leafless. But despite these seemingly hostile conditions it is full of lots of different bird species. The lack of thick foilage means spotting them is easier too. On our morning walk we saw loads more Giant Coua, a fleeting glimpse of the Crested Coua, Vasa Parrot and the striking Malagasy Scops Owl to name a few.

Malagasy Scops owl in Kirindy Forest

Although our visit was at the end of the dry season we still saw a few of the parks reptiles. The most common by far were the photogenic Collared Iguanid Lizards (Collared iguana). Apparently it’s the rainy season from December through February when Kirindy’s vegetation turns green and lush that the parks 50 reptile and 15 amphibian species are most active. During our visit in late October it was pretty hot and dry around 35°. The forest reminded us a little of the Australian bush – dry and hot with little humidity!

iguanid

We had originally planned on spending 3 nights in the park. But it turns out finding the Fosa of Kirindy Forest wasn’t quite what we had envisioned and coupled with the fact we had been lucky and seen so much in only 2 nights, we decided we would try to head back to Morondava a day earlier. Our dilemma was how to get back.

It had dawned on us that taking a taxi-brousse may be difficult. As they were coming from Belo-sur-Tsiribihina, they would likely be full to the brim once they reached Kirindy. And, we knew what full looked like! Our guide agreed with that and indicated that we may be able to get a lift with a staff truck. Nope, that was full. He then said there was a deliveryman coming in the afternoon and that we could possibly get a lift with him, perhaps for a small tip. The small tip ended up being quite a large one!!! After haggling as much as we could, ended up paying substantially more than we had hoped too! Still, it was far cheaper than having arranged a taxi or a tour here!

The driver turned out to be a nice guy and we chatted a bit along the journey. He actually informed us that walking down the 5 km track to the park from the main road was not that safe. As we drove towards the main road from the Eco-Lodge, we reached a cattle track around 1.5 km from the main road. He said this cattle track was frequented by cattle bandits, steering stolen cattle through parts of the forest. Often wielding guns or machetes, if we had been unlucky enough to cross paths with them, we could have been in serious danger. A guide from the park, who was also hitching a ride (I wander if we’d paid for his ride?) agreed.

Getting back to Morondava a night earlier than planned meant were able to enjoy a full day at Hotel Trecicogne. We spent our time relaxing in the hotel restaurant by the river. There were lots of colourful crabs darting around and a good array of birdlife. The following day we took our Cotisse taxi-brousse up to Antsirabe for the start of our next wildlife adventure – Exploring Ranomafana National Park.

Morondava crabs

Getting to/from and around

From Morondava – Kirindy Forest

Morondava is the gateway town if you’re not on a tour or renting a 4WD and driver. A taxi-brousse should cost no more than Ar10,000 p/p and takes around 2 hrs to reach Kirindy from Morondava. If taking a taxi-brousse, ask the driver to drop you off at the road to the Eco-Lodge at ‘Parc Nacional Kirindy’. It’s approximately 2 km further past Hotel Kirindy and the Sacred Baobab. If you speak French, you should be able to communicate exactly where you want to get dropped off. If not, ask your hotel reception to write it down for you. From the main road, it’s a 5 km walk down a dirt track to the Eco-lodge. When walking down the 5 km track to the Eco-lodge from the main road, be mindful of your surroundings as we mentioned above, cattle bandits sometimes cross the track!

From Kirindy ForestMorondava

You have a few options. Costs will vary, luck and your negotiation skills will come into play!

  1. A taxi from Kirindy – Morondava costs approx Ar160,000. The Eco-Lodge reception can arrange one for you if needed.
  2. Wait on the side of the main road and hope a Ar10,000 taxi-brousee has space and stops to pick you up.
  3. Ask staff at the hotel if any staff vehicles or delivery vehicles are due to be heading back to Morondava and if so, if you could potentially grab a lift. Likely for a small fee.
  4. Whilst a the eco-lodge talk to other guests. A large amount will have booked private 4×4 drivers and may offer you a lift back if it coincides with their plans.

A day trip to Kirindy via Alley of the Baobabs can be arranged from Morondava. Most accommodation providers can assist with that

From Morondava to Antananarivo/Antsirabe

The cheapest and most popular way to to travel between Antananarivo and Morondava is via taxi-brousse. Regular journeys take up to 16hr (sometimes more)

If travelling by taxi-brousse, Cotisse Transport is an awesome option to travel to/from Morondava. This company offers reliable and well-maintained vehicles, safe drivers and is a comfy way to make the long journey. Seats sell out fast and well in advance, especially during peak seasons. We recommend pre-booking tickets. At the time of our visit, foreigners couldn’t pay online. If this is the case, ask your hostel to call and reserve your seats. You will then need to go to the Cotisse bus station 24-48hrs prior to your departure to pay.

From Morondava – Antananarivo, Cotisse buses take about 12 hrs and at the time of our visit cost Ar45000 (€11p) p/p, departing from 5:30am. From Tana to Morondava they departed from 7:00am. We actually arranged to be dropped off at Antsirabe on the RN7, as we were heading to Ranomafana National Park and didn’t see the point of going all the way back to Tana, to come back down again.

The quickest way to get to/from Morondava is by plane. Be warned, flights are cancelled frequently and often with no notice.

Accommodation

In Morondava, we stayed at Hotel Trecicogne (€11 per night for a double room, with fan and hot water). We highly recommend this hotel as it was peaceful, clean and had a nice restaurant. They happily stored out luggage when we went to Kirindy Forest for a couple of days.

In Kirindy Forest the only option is Kirindy Ecolodge which we booked through their facebook page. As of 2018 pricing was:

  • Dorm bed – Ar35,000 p/p p/night
  • Private en-suite cabin Incl breakfast – Ar120,000
  • Breakfast (simple continental) – Ar10,000-Ar20,000
  • Lunch & dinner Ar15,000 – Ar30,000
  • Sides/desserts – Ar5,000
  • Large water – Ar5,000. Small beer Ar4,000

Best time to visit

Madagascar is a massive island and its climate varies from east to west and from north to south. But as general rule April to October are the drier months, with January to March, the wettest period.

Things really start getting busy from June with the peak months being the European school holidays of July and August. If you can avoid those two months you will have a quieter experience in parks and accommodation will be far less busy! The shoulder seasons of April-June and September to November are ideal times travel.

Like Tsingy de Bemaraha, Kirindy can become unreachable due to heavy rain that cause the poorly maintained roads to be unusable, so factor this in your planning if you want to visit this amazing place. Generally for Kirindy this can be from the end of December through to the end of March.

For wildlife, October through December are great for lemurs, as babies are born at this time. Birds, also breed in this period. Lizards and snakes tend to come out of hibernation from September through to December.

The November and December mating season is said to give the best the chance of sighting the elusive Fosa of Kirindy Forest. From our experience and discussions with guides this may not necessarily be correct. But, we did see three different male Fosa in our early November visit, so who knows!

How much time do you need

If you’re coming for the wildlife, the longer the better. We were lucky and saw a lot in our 2 days here. We would strongly recommend at least one night if you can. As although our night walk was slightly frustrating one due to the large numbers, we actually saw more on this night walk than any of our others.

Essential information & tips

  • Don’t confuse Kirindy Forest (Reserve Forestiere de Kirindy) with Kirindy Mitea National Park. They are two different parks in two different areas!
  • The Ecolodge is a long way from any shops, so you will need to buy everything from the restaurant. Water was expensive for Madagascar, so try to take as much as you can with you if you want to keep costs low.
  • Don’t go expecting to definitely see the Fosa. They are wild creatures and although we saw 3 seemingly habituated Fosa displaying not so ‘wild’ behaviours it does not mean this is always the case. The joy of wildlife is that its wild, so there are no guarantees!
  • Reef-friendly sunscreen, and sunglasses.
  • Long, lightweight clothes for sun protection.
  • Sleep sheet. It’s Madagascar, so blankets/sleeping bags aren’t always the cleanest.
  • Sturdy shoes for the hikes and night walks.
  • Band aids for blisters are handy to have on hand, just in case.
  • Biodegradable wet wipes or antibacterial hand wash.
  • Head torch for night walks and when theres no electricity.
  • Quick-dry travel towel.
  • If you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens as sometimes the animals are far away. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm.
  • The Madagascar Wildlife – Bradt Guides book was so informative and helpful for identification purposes.
  • Download Maps.me to your phone so that you have offline maps. We love pinning our journeys as we travel.

Prices as of November 2018

  • Park Entrance fee – Ar35,000p/p
  • Guide fees:
    • 2hr guided walk – Ar10,000p/p
    • 4hr guided walk – Ar20,000p/p
    • 1hr night walk – Ar20,000p/p
  • Note – The above guide fees are p/p in a group of up to 8-10

Our Highlights

  • Seeing the inquisitive Verreaux Sifaka up close and personal springing from tree to tree with a baby clinging on.

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