Taolanaro (formerly Fort Dauphin), in the southeast corner of the island is the site of the first French settlement and parts of the 17th-century fort remain. The city and surrounding area are famous for seafood and for orchids and carnivorous pitcher plants, which can be seen at the Mandona. The town is built on a promontory, between two large and deep bays at the foot of Peak Saint Louis which overlooks a grandiose panorama.
Ifotaka Community Forest
After a 1 hour 15 minute flight from Tana we arrived in Taolanaro (formerly Fort Dauphin) and we then had a 3.5 hour drive to the Mandrare River Camp in the Ifotaka Community Forest. We drove west along the main road that traversed the south of Madagascar – a road that had been tarmacked 40 years ago but with no subsequent maintenance - it was not good and the pit holes exceeded the area of the tarmac. (Apparently, the government won’t repair the road, which was laid 40 years ago and won’t remove the bits of tarmac that remain to make it an easier dirt track as it will reduce their statistics for number of tarmacked roads). The bridges are extremely old although one was being replaced. At Amboasary we headed north on track roads through the copious sisal plantations.
The Ifotaka Community Forest is as remote as it is wild. It covers an expanse of the Southern Spiny Forests (Spiny Desert) and the Deciduous Gallery Forests that have been protected by the Antandroy Tribe, one of Madagascar’s fiercest and most traditional tribes, because they are deemed to be sacred.
By protecting the Sacred Forests, where the Antandroy ancestors rest in their ornate tombs, the tribe have managed to preserve large pristine wildlife areas and through the traditions of Fady they not only protect but seem to genuinely live in harmony with their environment.
There are 4 species of lemur: Ring Tailed, Verreuxs, Sifaka, Mouse and White Foot Sportive (both nocturnal). The birding includes Scops Owl, Malachite Kingfisher, Verreaux’s Coua, Lafresnayes and hook billed vangas, crested and giant coua, and many others.
Most of the original forest has been destroyed in favour of the cultivation of sisal which extends to some 300,000 hectares (mostly owned by the Polish and French). The workers cut an average of 3000 leaves a day for a payment of 60 euros a month. Sisal flowers after 7 years and then it dies. The field is replanted avery 10 years. The sisal is boiled to separate the fibres then left to dry. The end product is used for making products such as rugs and baskets. Some of the baobab trees remain in the landsacape.
Baobabs, with their distinctive shape, are one of the most charismatic group of trees in the world. Six out of the eight species of baobab are endemic to Madagascar, three are classified as Endangered and three are Near Threatened.
Community Life around Ifotaka
The local people rely on the the river for sustainance, whether it is fish in the waters or sweet potatoes planted in the dry riverbeds. They also farm chickens and zebu.
It is tradition that the dead are honoured
in graves with their picture on it in their
home land whilst the ancient Antandroy ancestors
are at rest in ornate tombs in the sacred
The mainstay of the Antandroy is Zebu herding with some subsistence agriculture of Sorghum and Cassava; they, like all Malagasy, are a proud people steeped in traditions of ancestor worship and Fady (taboo’s) with a fascinating culture and social structure.
The village of Ifotaka is the largest community in the area where villagers gather to sell their few products. We visited a local school where we presented the year one pupils with satchels containing notebooks and pencils. Some local villagers came to the Mandrare River Camp one evenng to perform their traditional dance.