As I walk onto the next area I am greeted with a wooden sign with an arrow pointing to the left… It reads “Crocodiles this way”…
I look at my guide bearing in mind this Nile crocodile is in front of me having a break and there is literally nothing to prevent it suddenly running at me and turning me into a quick snack.
I ask the question…
Is there a sign that end which says “Humans this way with an arrow pointing right?” My guide found this amusing, as did I. This is where I had to remember what I learnt in Australia should one of these get peckish and I mean they are literally everywhere.
You may read that some think the Nile crocodile is not native to Madagascar. Well I can confirm it most definitely is and it’s known as a couple of other names. Cowiei (the South African Nile crocodile), Madagascariensis (Malagasy or Madagascar Nile crocodile, regionally also known as the Croco Mada, which translates to Malagasy crocodile). These are possibly the second largest freshwater crocodile in the world, next to Saltwater crocodiles. To be clear, whilst Saltwater crocodiles have their name, they can live in both fresh and saltwater.
Although Nile Crocodiles are capable of living in saline environments, this species is rarely found in saltwater, but occasionally inhabits deltas and brackish lakes. They are opportunistic apex predators and are a very aggressive species of crocodile, they are capable of taking almost any animal within their range.
They can weigh as much as 2,100 lbs and can grow up to 20ft in length. The Nile crocodile, is found in freshwater habitats in Madagascar. This species was once widely abundant and greatly feared in the country but years of hunting for its skins has made it a threatened species.
Nile crocodiles are exceptionally caring parents despite their fearsome appearance. Mother and father Nile crocodiles ferociously guard their nests until the eggs hatch, and they will often roll the eggs gently in their mouths to help hatching babies emerge. Most reptiles generally lay their eggs and move on.
A new mother will protect her offspring for up to two years, and if there are multiple nests in the same area, the mothers may form a crèche. The mothers may pick up their offspring either in their mouths to keep the babies safe or will sometimes carry the young on their back to avoid the natural predators of the small crocodiles, which can be surprisingly bold even with the mother around. Young crocodiles are rather shy and evasive due to the formidable gauntlet of predators that they must face in sub-Saharan Africa, spending little time sunning and moving about nocturnally whenever possible.
Whilst crocodiles appear prehistoric, they are the most advanced reptile of our time. Unlike other reptiles they have a four-chambered heart, diaphragm and cerebral cortex (a structure within the vertebrate brain which has distinct structural and functional properties).
The crocodiles physicality allows it to be a highly successful predator. Armed with a streamlined body that enables them to swim faster. Crocodiles also tuck their feet to their sides whilst swimming, enabling them to swim fast, decreasing the water resistance.
Crocodiles are generally ambush hunters, waiting for fish or land animals to come close, then rushing out to attack. Once it has caught its prey, crocodiles will generally drag it into the water and drown it.
As they are cold-blooded predators, they can survive long periods without food, and rarely need to actively go hunting. Despite their large appearance, you’d be forgiven for thinking crocodiles are slow. They are in fact top predators in their environment and various species have been documented attacking and killing sharks. Crocodiles mostly feed on vertebrates like fish, reptiles, and mammals, sometimes with invertebrates like molluscs and crustaceans, depending on species.
Crocodilians, including alligators, perform a spinning manoeuvre to subdue and dismember prey. The spinning manoeuvre is referred to as the “Death roll”. It involves rapid rotation of the body. This behaviour is so powerful and violent, the twisting wrenches limbs from sockets and muscle from bone when a crocodilian clamps onto a morsel and does its best impression of a washing machine on spin cycle. It eats its prey by biting off large chunks of meat and swallowing whole.
Walking around amongst these giant reptilians, I climb up onto a rather unstable wooden and rope suspension bridge with crocodile infested waters beneath me. This bridge looks like something out of a jungle movie and it is every bit unnerving due to it being seemingly unstable. Trying to photograph the jaws below which are ready to snap, is no easy task and my hands shaking from being on such an unstable platform doesn’t help, especially with a minor fear of heights.
Following on from this experience, I walk onto another area which is more like a zoo and this is where I come across “The Madagascan Big Cat”. Only it’s not a cat. It is more an oversized Mongoose.
They are a relative of the mongoose, the fossa is unique to the forests of Madagascar. Weighing up to 26 pounds, the fossa is a slender-bodied catlike creature with little resemblance to its mongoose cousins.
The fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island of Madagascar. They can reach nearly six feet in length, with half of that due to their long tails.
Known to feed on lemurs and as well as other creatures, the fossa can get its claws into quite a variety, from wild pigs to mice. Unlike mongooses, and more like felines, the fossa has retractable claws and fearsome catlike teeth. It is the largest mammal predator on the island. It is a solitary animal which spends its time both in the trees and on the ground. It is nocturnal but will appear during the day. Fossas are threatened due to habitat loss and less than ten percent of Madagascar’s original, intact forest cover, the fossa’s only home, remains today.
Walking on I came to another lake area and here I was able to photograph the Malagasy kingfisher which isn’t that dissimilar to our native Common kingfisher in the UK. There is though a marginal size difference and colouring so we are clear.
I followed what I thought was just the one, to capture more photos of, as they really are a beautiful bird and I was then blessed to capture the following rare sight of a breeding pair feeding each other. There are only two breeds of kingfishers that occur in Madagascar. The other is the Madagascan pygmy kingfisher which is a orange, red and white colour. This pair are closely related to the malachite kingfisher which is widely distributed in mainland Africa.
I then continued after observing the kingfishers and came out to an opening. There I would see Paratilapia polleni fish and a rather mischievous Madagascar girdled lizard or also known as Madagascar plated lizard. These grow to around 12 inches in length and are quick on their feet.
There paratilapia is endangered in the wild due to habitat destruction and competition from introduced species and all attempts at captive breeding are encouraged.
There is confusion as to the identity of the “true” Paratilapia polleni as there are both large and small-spotted forms. The small-spotted form is given as the type species for polleni but there has been speculation that it should be renamed Paratilapia typus. The large spotted form is referred to as Paratilapia bleekeri by some. However, none of this has been confirmed by science and currently all the forms (there are possibly more) should be considered polleni. The confusion on species in Madagascar, as I have mentioned before is a widespread issue and this is down to the lack of research.
The girdled lizard, whilst native to Madagascar, is also found elsewhere in Africa with sub-species variations. I had come across this lizard previously and assumed it to be a skink due to the smoothness. However a little research and I am able to confirm the species as I had encountered the sub-species in Zanzibar a couple of years earlier. The species is relatively ancient and evolved before the separation of the southern supercontinent Gondwana and the separation of Madagascar from Africa in the middle Cretaceous epoch (80–100 million years ago).
My tour of Vakona and Andasibe (Perinet) had now drawn to an end and it was time to head back, get some more crepes and rest before heading off to Ranomafana…