Photos of Madagascar's first Ramsar site
Further to the report of the Ramsar celebration in Madagascar (reported on the 15th of June), Jamie Pittock, WWF Living Waters Programme's Director, reports on his visit to one of that country's Ramsar sites, and provides photos:
"On June 12th I visited Lac Tsimantampetsotsa, a Ramsar site of nearly 46,000 ha on the southwest coast, Province of Toliara, Madagascar. This site highlights the commitment of the government of Madagascar to conserve its natural environment and provide more sustainable livelihoods for its people.
The Lac is a shallow saline lake at the foot of the Mahalafy limestone plateau. A knowledgeble local guide, Mr Nicaise Nasombola, led us by foot around the lake and onto some short foot paths onto the plateau. The highlights included a flock of around 100 flamingoes feeding in the lake, a spectacular array of butterflies, and the contrast between the lake, salicornia vegetation on the flats, and the spiny forest on the escarpment.
Climbing the escarpment I was struck by the aridity of the area, with Nicaise explaining that it had not rained in over a year. Of the bizarre and spectacular plants, the most wonderful were the two species of baobabs.
Punched deep into the plateau are a number of sink holes, most easily seen at the Grotte de Mitaho. One sink hole is fringed by a spectacular fig tree, and at another visitors can climb down to see an endemic, blind fish species.
Another feature of the site are many Mahafaly tombs, particularly at the foot of the escarpment, where important people are interred in impressive rock constructions up to a metre high and 15 m square. The tombs are adorned with Zebu skulls.
The Ramsar site includes both a national park and a buffer zone on the western shore of the lake, which is habitat of an endemic bird species. The government is considering expanding the park.
At the nearby village of Beheloka, the national parks agency, ANGAP, have an effective ranger station, where visitors can get information and hire a guide. The park entry fee is FMG 50,000 (~ US$4) per day and the charge for a guide FMG 15,000 (less than ~ US$1.50, so foriegn visitors should pay more considering the expertise the guides provide). There are two designated campsites in the park, and the park is well sign posted.
The park rangers report that they receive 900 -1,000 visitors per year. This is important for diversifying the local economy, where widespread poverty is evident and in which most people make a living from fishing or are pastoralists. Nicaise reports that local villages are receiving significant indirect economic benefits from visitors to the conservation reserve.
The remote Lac site is about 75 km south of Toliara, the provincial capital, about two days' drive on remote roads, or accessed more quickly by boat across the mouth of the Onilahy River. Even more pleasant is to stay in one of the few low-key tourist hotels on the beach at Anakao, which were clean, had good food and refreshing cold showers.
From Anakao the hotels will drive guests the two hours required by 4WD to the Lac.
The new Ramsar sites (declared since the Lac became Madagascar's first Ramsar site in 1998) are a tangible sign of the commitment of the government of President, Marc Ramanolovanana, to increasing conservation in Madagascar. Tourists can play an important role by visiting Madagascar's parks and contributing to the country's economy.
- WWF Madagascar: http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/where_we_work/africa/where/madagascar/
- Madagascar parks and Toliara: http://www.air-mad.com/about_cities.html#tulear
(Mr) Jamie Pittock
Director, Living Waters Programme
Campbell ACT 2612 Australia
baobabs on escarpment, Lac Tsimanamsotsa, eastern shore
fig on rim of garotte, Lac Tsimanamsotsa
Malahafy tomb with zebu skulls, Lac Tsimanamsotsa
Nicaise Nasombola in garotte with blind fish, Lac Tsimanamsotsa
view east across Lac Tsimanamsotsa, north end
view east across salicornia, Lac Tsimanamsotsa, north end
view south along west shore, Lac Tsimanamsotsa
view southwest across Lac Tsimanamsotsa from escarpment
view west across Lac Tsimanamsotsa from escarpment
west shore Lac Tsimanampetsotsa, looking south