Madagascar – A photographer’s experience of a lifetime!

 by Reinhard Thomas
September 8, 2016

Madagascar Lemurs  by Reinhard Thomas ©

Sifakas are one of the largest lemurs. They are also called dancing lemur due to their sideways dancing movements. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 f2.8 lens, ISO 640, 66 mm A f2.8, 1/640 sec.

It was supposed to be a short flight across the Mozambique Channel from Nairobi to Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capitol city but it became the first taste of a most adventures trip. Our flight was delayed by a mere 10 hours because first there was no flight crew, then we had a crew but no plane, then there was a plane and crew but no pilot, but finally we left the African continent for new adventures in Madagascar.

Reinhard Thomas lizards ©

These flat-tailed Geckos are to see because they blend almost perfectly into the background. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 mm f 2.8 lens, ISO 500, 65 mm @ f8.0, 1/160 sec/

It is a country of legends – from how it split up from the Indian peninsula 88 million years ago to having thousands of endemic animals and plant species, to being the title and theme for a Hollywood cartoon blockbuster staring the ring tailed lemur King Julian.

Madagascar lizard by Reinhard Thomas  

The Leaf-tailed Gecko depends totally on it's camoflage for survival. This little creature was about 10 cm long. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 f 2.8 lens, ISO 500, 64 mm A f5.0, 1/125 sec.

Madagascar is a photographer’s paradise because of the immense biodiversity of flora and fauna, the local cultures and traditions of the Malagasy and the stunning landscapes this island nation in the Indian Ocean has to offer.
Located off the coast of southeast Africa the country has a population of about 23 million Malagasy, most of which live on less than $2,- (two) dollars per day. With a high rate of poverty, food security is an issue and most of their diet consists of rice, which is grown locally.

The Panther Chameleon grows up to 50 cm in length and is quite common in Madagascar. Caonon EOS7D, Canon, 24-70 mm f 2.8 lens, ISO 500, 62 mm, @ f4.5, 1/11600 sec.

The rich and colorful history of the island dates back more than 2300 years. I have visited many countries on the African continent but Madagascar is different in so many ways.

Madasgar wildife by Thomas Reinhard ©

Left: The beautiful Comet Moth is about 20 cm long. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 40mm @ f. 4.5, 1/500 sec. The Indri Lemur is Madagascar's largest lemur and has the loudes voice of all lemurs. They can leap up to 10 meters. Canon EOS7D, Sigma 70-200 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 640, 70 mm @ f2.8, 1/320 sec.

What makes this island so interesting for photographers and nature lovers is the fact that 90% of the wildlife and about 80% of the 15,000 plant species are endemic (not found anywhere else on Earth). ¾ of the world’s 860 orchid species are only found in Madagascar. The long isolation from any continent allowed animals and plants to evolve in isolation. Your camera is guaranteed to get a work out at every turn.

The Phelsuma Day Gecko feeds mostly on insects and is very common. It is easy to spot with red markings on it's body. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 52 mm @ f8, 1/125 sec.

The lemur is Madagascar’s flagship mammal and as of last count there were more than 100 species and subspecies present. Madagascar is the only place on earth where you can enjoy these fantastic animals in their natural habitat. We encountered a number of lemur species in the wild ranging from the tiny, nocturnal mouse lemur, nature’s alarm clock, the loud indri, the arguable most famous ring-tale, brown, bamboo, several “dancing” Sifaka varieties and others. I consider myself fortunate to have seen them in their natural habitat as scientists now list the lemurs as the word’s most endangered animals, due to their endemic nature and habitat loss because of widespread local “slush and burn” practices.

Lemur by Reinhard Thomas ©

Ruffed Lemurs come in different colours suc as white and brown or white and black. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 66 mm @ f5.6, 1/125 sec.

One of the many highlights of the trip was a 10 km hike into a mountain village where we had an overnight stay with a local family. Madagascar has a very interesting culture and during this stay we learned a lot about local practices and beliefs based on animism. While walking through taro root and rice fields, we were lucky to spot the rarely seen blue boa snake.

Lemurs by Reinhard Thomas ©

Bamboo Lemu on Lemur Island. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 50 mm @ f2.8, 1/400 sec. Brown Lemur family on Lemur Island. Canon EOS7D, 24-70mm f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 32 mm @ f2.8, 1/160 sec.

While lemurs are the first images that come to mind when thinking of Madagascar, chameleons are a close second. Chameleons and geckos are abundant and this comes as no surprise since about 2/3 of the world chameleon species live here. A country of extremes, Madagascar is home to both the world larges and the world’s smallest chameleon. (And yes, they really do come in every color you can imagine!)

For your bird photographers, Madagascar is a treat as well. There are over 300 bird species of which 60% are endemic.

Rice is the main food in Madagascar. Locals eat rice 3 times a day with a small amount of veggies or meat. Ploughin te rice fields in ard manual labour. Canon EOS7D 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 640 @ f10, 1/1000 sec. Taken out of a moving bus.

A visit to Madagascar is not for the faint of heart. Traveling there is fairly complicated. Car rentals don’t exist, (and trust me you do not want to drive there yourself anyway) and even taxies are not all safe. One of our taxies was missing the passenger door and seat belts are non-existing.

Typical farm residence, surrounded by rice fields, consists of multiple home where several generations live together and where the rice is stored. Laundry is washed in streams and spread out to dry. Canon EOS7D, 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 51 mm @ f 9, 1/1800 sec. Taken out of a moving bus.

The main language is Malagasy, a very unique language that is probably not offered at your local language school (although some educated people speak also French, which is the 2nd official language).

Madagascar by Reinhard Thomas ©

Typical store outside the captical city. Canon EOS7D 24-70 f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 28 mm @ f2.8, 1/800 sec.

Tourist accommodations are few and far between and most are well below western standards. Running water and electricity are certainly not a given and a window does not mean that there is glass involved but often just a big opening in the wall. Local bugs, including the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach are sure to find their way through the holes in your mosquito net.  

Madasgascar by Reinhard Thomas ©

A dangerous school bus ride on rough roads. Canon EOS 7D, 24-70 mm f2.8, ISO 200 @ f 5.6, 1/200 sec.

As of 2009, the latest figures available, 7% of the population had access to safe water and sanitation facilities and less than 10% have access to electricity.

Madasgar by Reinhard Thomas ©

Typical village street life. Canon EOS 7D, Canon 24-70 f 2.8 lens, ISO 400, 52 mm @ fll, 1/125 sec.

Madasgascar by Reinhard Thomas ©

Farmers bring home their harvest. Canon EOS7D, Canon 24-70 mm f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 32 mm @ f8, 1/800 sec.

Madagascar is a wonderful place and will keep a piece of your heart. Other than on mainland Africa, there are no animals here, which will eat you (although some of the larger bugs may try). The people are very hard working and friendly.

Lemur Madagascar by Reinhard Thomas ©

Ringtail Lemur mother and baby. Canon EOS7D, Sigma 70-200 f 2.8 lens with Canon 2X converter, ISO 400, 307 mm @ f5.6, 1/200 sec.

Although world famous for its flora and fauna, this country has a lot of challenges ahead to protect this. Human activity, including slash and burn agriculture, heating and cooking done with wood and charcoal and high pollution levels are detrimental.

Madagascar by Reinhard Thomas ©

Left - Baobab trees grow into very large large trees and this example in the spiny forest was no exception. Canon EOS7D, Sigma 10-20mm, f3.5 lens, ISO 200, 12 mm @ f16, 1/160 sec. Right - This shy nocturna. Mouse Lemur was not easy to spot. Canon EOS7D, Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens, ISO 640, 52 mm @ f 2.8, 1/100 sec built in flash. .

Even though Madagascar has a number of national parks, the country is looking to increase income-generating activities in the short term. Collecting precious timber from national parks was re-authorized in 2009 and many scarce species of rosewood are exported to China to produce upscale furniture.

Our only transportation in the spiny forest was the oxcart. Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 10-20 mm f3.5 lens, ISO 200, 14 mm @ f10, 1/200 sec.

All the attached images were taken without tripod and several out of a moving vehicle. Since the local animals have only very few natural enemies, it is easy to get fairly close to them to take photos.


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Reinhard Thomas portrait

Reinhard Thomas is a photographer living in Calgary. He is specialized in travel photography. Between travels he creates animal and landscape images and has a comprehensive collection of barn and grain elevator pictures.



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