How To See The Lemurs of Madagascar Ethically in Andasibe National Park

Seeing the lemurs of Madagascar is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s no surprise that most visitors to Madagascar are hellbent on spotting a lemur, no matter how! Though there are many species, they are all endemic to Madagascar, and it’s the only place they can currently be found living fully wild. Lemurs are truly fascinating and beautiful creatures. Luckily, they can be found all over this beautiful island, often with little effort!

That being said, unfortunately many of the lemurs in Madagascar have become very used to humans. Lack of understanding surrounding animal conservation led people to feed them bananas and things outside of their natural diet, to encourage them to come close to tourists for entertainment. There are many places where facilities may not understand the damage they are doing to lemurs by encouraging them to be in such close proximity to humans all the time.

As with many animal encounters, hands off is the best way. Many places in Madagascar offer the chance to see lemurs, but not all of them go about it in an ethical way. Here is our full guide to Andasibe National Park, one of the most ethical places to see the lemurs of Madagascar.

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Table of Contents

A black and white lemur hanging over a branch of a tree
There are over 100 species of lemur in Madagascar!

If you’re visiting Madagascar, we also have an in depth 3 week itinerary available here.

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Why is hands off best?

There has been extensive research done into hands off vs hands on wildlife tourism encounters, and the general consensus is clear: hands off is best. It’s true that there is so much greenwashing (and ethics-washing) in the wildlife tourism industry that it’s really hard to find a facility that is truly ‘ethical’. There are so many places offering wildlife cuddles, elephant bathing, feeding animals, and honestly, it’s a nightmare for tourists trying to do the right thing.

For that reason, we like to follow the golden rule: no contact whatsoever is the only way to be sure.

The fact remains that if we want to cuddle animals and do good, there are places we can go. For example, it’s fine to cuddle animals (that are comfortable with it) in places assisting domesticated animals like cats and dogs. Wildlife, however is different.

It’s a complicated issue, but the problems tend to be threefold (we’ve linked some sources below):

  • Over time, repeated contact with humans can cause the animals stress. Wild animals are not used to being around humans and repeated interactions can stress them out and make them sick.
  • The wrong behaviour can cause physical illness in animals. For example, in the case of the lemurs of Madagascar, humans often feed them bananas. This is not part of their natural diet, so we don’t know the nutritional effects it will have long term. Additionally, we can accidentally overfeed them, which could lead to them becoming overweight and unable to look after themselves in the wild (i.e. dependent on humans). We also carry diseases that their immune systems are not set up to deal with, which can be hard for them to fight off.
  • Likewise, it can be dangerous for us. Wild animals carry zoonotic diseases that we also are not set up to deal with. Keeping a safe and healthy distance is best practice for everyone.

Sources: Lilongwe Wildlife Trust – volunteer projects, The Sloth Conservation Foundation – The Wildlife Selfie Problem, National Geographic, Thoroughly Travel

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The largest lemur in the world hanging onto a thin tree and looking to the left
A female indri indri lemur

How can you make sure a lemur facility or area is hands off?

It’s definitely really tricky, but here are some tried and tested method that work well for us:

  • Check the reviews. The reviews may be positive overall but look at what they are saying. Any mention of feeding lemurs or lemurs being enticed to jump on people’s shoulders shows the facility is not hands-off and therefore best avoided.
  • Check social media. Madagascar is not on social media very much, but you can search for each location and see what’s been posted there. If you see photos of people touching or feeding lemurs, avoid them.
  • Ask local guides. Most people will visit Madagascar with a tour or a driver, you can ask them in advance if the facilities allow touching or feeding and make clear that you don’t want that. If you’re curious about how to book a trip to Madagascar, we cover it thoroughly in a guide here.
  • If booking a group tour, choose responsible tours, such as G Adventures and Intrepid, who only engage in ethical lemur spotting activities.

Packing list for lemur spotting

  • Binoculars for spotting lemurs that are far away
  • A great camera (optionally: telephoto lens to take shots from further away)
  • Water and snacks (the hikes can be quite long!). We used Lifestraw filtered water bottles throughout Madagascar, as they’re nice and portable, and saved us using any plastic bottles. Waste disposal is not the best there and there is no recycling, so for us this was a must.
  • Neutral clothes (dark and plain, beige or khaki green – no loud prints or bright colours)
  • Good sturdy hiking boots
  • A raincoat if visiting the rainforest, as weather can be changeable
  • Money for tipping the guides (typically the rate is 10,000 Ariary per day)
  • Swimming costumes for the waterfall hikes!
  • Insect repellent. We use Incognito, which is all natural and actually works better than any traditional sprays containing DEET. You can get 20% off Incognito via this link

Get 20% off Incognito DEET free bug repellent!

Lemurs of Madagascar (glossary)

Here are some words you need to know before you go lemur spotting:

Indri indri – the largest type of lemur in Madagascar. Indri indri lemurs are only seen in the wild because they typically don’t survive very long in captivity

Sifaka – this is a type of long-limbed lemur. They are mid-sized and come in various colours.

Fossa – A fossa is the only predator in Madagascar. They are extremely rare and are nocturnal. It’s not common to see them in the park but it does happen.

Most other lemurs tend to be named after their physical characteristics. For example, a mouse lemur (the smallest!) resembles a mouse, a ring-tailed lemur has rings on its tail and a brown lemur is… you guessed it! Brown.

Most people do want to see ring-tailed lemurs, but actually they’re not that common in Andasibe. They’re mainly found in Isalo, Andringitra and Andohahela National Parks.

A tiny green tree frog on an aloe branch. He is about the size of a finger tip and it almost camouflaged against the leaf.
A small green tree frog – among the other wildlife we spotted!

About Andasibe-Mantadia National Park

Andasibe, or Andasibe-Mantadia, National Park was by far the best experience we had with lemurs in Madagascar, and the place we recommend anyone who wants a truly authentic lemur experience to go. Andasibe-Mantadia is split into two parts (the larger Northern park and a much smaller Southern park) – you can very easily see and hike around both of them in 2 days. There are several different hiking trails so you can choose which one(s) you do, from a short and simple 30 minute walk to much longer trails around 2-3 hours long, depending on what you spot.

You have to pay additional guiding fees depending on which of the below circuits you choose (and we somehow chose I think all of them?! but it did turn out to be completely worth it). You can also do a night walking tour. Again this is absolutely fantastic and so worth doing (more details below). Below are the daytime routes you can take:

Sacred Waterfall Circuit

This is a 2 hour walk, which takes you past several sights (including waterfalls which you cannot swim in) which are sacred to local people.

Belakato Circuit

This is a longer and harder version of the Sacred Waterfall Trail, and it takes around 3 hours.

Rianasoa Circuit

This is 1-2 hours, depending on what you see (if you see more lemurs, you’ll stop more and it’ll take longer). We did this trail on our second day in the park. There is a small waterfall to swim in at the end – fair warning, it is COLD! But it was cute to visit and was empty when we went. Apparently there are indri indri on this trail, but it isn’t common to see them – we only saw brown lemurs. We did hear the indri (you can’t miss them!).

Tsakoka Circuit

This is the longest trail on the main circuit (which is about 2-3 hours) and is full of lemurs. We There are 4 different kinds during the day: brown lemurs, bamboo lemurs, indri indri and sifaka. We did this route on our first day and were fortunate enough to see all four kinds, as well as several other nocturnal lemurs on the nocturnal circuit of the same route! At night we saw several rare lizards too, a mouse lemur (the smallest lemur in existence) and even a fossa, Madagascar’s only predator, though this was from a real distance.

A very well camouflaged gecko, flat against a branch and almost the same colour as it. Its tail is flat and looks like a leaf.
The very rare leaf gecko – can you see it?

The night circuit/night safari

We weren’t offered the opportunity to book the night safari on arrival to the park. This was something our guide offered us while we were hiking the rest of the park. If you want to book this yourself, we suggest speaking to a guide directly.

We’ve done a few night safaris and not enjoyed them, but actually this night safari was a real highlight for us. A lot of lemurs in Madagascar are nocturnal by nature and we ended up seeing so much!

The guides are also really good at spotting lemurs so you are bound to see a lot. The one thing is that when the lemurs are a little further away, they’re really hard to identify (unless you’re the guides), so you might prefer to have night vision binoculars. Definitely an optional addition and we didn’t feel we missed out too much by not having them.

A tour called highlights of Madagascar with the price £1949 for 14 days

Know before you go

As much as we enjoyed the longer walks of the Belakato Circuit and the pretty scenery, we felt that we probably didn’t need to have done this one. The Tsakoka Circuit is worth it if you have the fitness, but if you don’t then you are still likely to spot lemurs on several of the other and smaller trails so you shouldn’t miss out.

Things to bear in mind:

  • The longer trails are not accessible at all – to follow the lemurs, the guides will duck and weave off the official trails and sometimes you will find yourself pushing through thick undergrowth/forest land to get to places where you will have the best viewing spots
  • Possibly the best thing we did in Andasibe-Mantadia was the night time walk. We were initially sceptical as we’ve never had great luck with nocturnal safaris, but this was a completely different experience, as there were so many animals who were only out at night, and the guides were honestly absolute pros at spotting them
  • Andasibe is only around 3-4 hours away from Andasibe, so it is very easy to get there via road.
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Steps they take to protect the lemurs

What we truly loved about Andasibe is that the staff really put the lemurs first. Our guides told us multiple times that we should not touch any lemurs at all (totally understandable) or get too close. Anytime they did feel we were getting too close, they’d move us on.

Additionally, the guides were absolute experts at reading the behaviour of the lemurs so, for example, if they were exhibiting signs of stress, they’d move anyone nearby away and give the lemurs their space.

You walk around the park in small groups, but you are likely to encounter other people. If there are too many people around the lemurs at any one time, again they’ll move you on so they’re not crowded.

It goes without saying that they didn’t feed the lemurs at all. They were just free and ate what was available in the park.

Cost of visiting Andasibe

Park entry fee 45.000 MGA – around $10

Guide from 60.000 MGA – around $15

The cost is more if you add on additional circuits. We paid around 250,000 MGA total for three circuits, plus entry for both days and the guide

Other places to spot lemurs in Madagascar

There are many other National Parks in Madagascar where you can see lemurs, so you should have plenty of opportunities. Ones we heard great things about but didn’t have chance to visit:

  • Isalo National Park
  • Ranomafana National Park
  • Masoala National Park
  • Andringitra National Park

And there are so many more. Just make sure they are following the no contact rule to be sure they’re ethical.

Here are some tours visiting Andasibe, Ramoanfana and other areas of Madagascar.

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Some places we ran into lemurs where we weren’t expecting to:

1. Nosy Ampela Waterfalls

If you are visiting Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park (read full guide here if you are), chances are you might be getting there on the Tsiribihina River. This is an incredibly unique experience and you will end up passing Nosy Ampela village and its beautiful waterfalls.

At the falls, there is a large group of extremely curious brown lemurs. They are really interested in humans, so you will likely see them. Make sure you give them their distance and don’t feed them. This is one group we learned have developed a taste for bananas, so it’s really important not to give them any food, as you could negatively impact their nutritional health, cause them to become aggressive etc.

A small brown lemur with gold eyes sitting in a tree and looking at the camera
A common brown lemur in Madagascar

2. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park

Lemurs are all over the Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. We saw white sifakas (the only ones we saw in Madagascar). We actually walked right past them and our guide had to call us back!

They were sitting watching us in a tree and were very timid so it was quite difficult to get great photos, but we did watch them for ages. Again, this was a lovely authentic experience for us where we were just able to see the lemurs in their natural habitat. There are lemurs all over Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, so you might be lucky enough to spot them on your hike!

You can read our full guide to Tsingy de Bemaraha here.

A tiny mouse lemur that looks almost like a mouse. It is about the size of a tennis ball, and has huge eyes. It is illuminated by a torch and is looking straight ahead
The tiniest of all lemurs, the mouse lemur!

Unethical Lemur spotting experiences we don’t recommend

We thought it was best to write about some experiences we had that didn’t meet the no-contact brief at all. Obviously, this is so others who wish to have an ethical lemur spotting experience in Madagascar can avoid these places, as they were not doing the right things for the lemurs.

Island of Lemurs

There is an additional part of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, colloquially known as ‘Lemur Island’ or the Island of Lemurs. We heard from a lot of the locals say that it is a paradise and full of lemurs. While the latter is certainly true, we were not a massive fan of this place.

Perhaps it is down to a lack of understanding or education, but the tour guides were not quite as respectful as the others had been in Andasibe and the lemurs seemed much more tame. Our guide, for example, was throwing food (bananas etc.) at the lemurs and trying to encourage them to jump on us and come as close as possible. We repeatedly told them we didn’t want to touch the lemurs, but they are so used to tourists wanting to pet them and feed them that they didn’t stop.

It also feels a bit like the lemurs on the island are in captivity. They can’t really escape the island (because it’s an island) and they get a lot of their diet supplemented by humans.

So basically, even though you can see a lot of lemurs here, we wouldn’t recommend visiting this place as an add-on to Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.

A fossa is a fox-like creature that is the only predator in Madagascar. It is lying on a tree branch very far from the camera and is about to run away.
The only photo we got of the fossa – you can almost see it!

Palmarium Wildlife Reserve

Palmarium Wildlife Reserve is a beautiful setting: a private beach on a near-private island, filled with endemic Madagascan wildlife and sweet boutique hotel rooms. The location is undoubtedly impressive and for many, this reserve is a must-see on their Madagascan itinerary.

The reality is sadly much more complex, and serious thought should be given to the ethics of this reserve before wildlife-loving visitors choose to include it.

We were first recommended the reserve by our guide, who had previously given us some excellent suggestions and so far, not really ever steered us wrong. He suggested it owing to the density of wildlife in the area (knowing that lemur spotting was one of our interests) and based on the feedback of his previous guests, who had been delighted to stay in such close proximity to these bizarre and beautiful creatures.

Though the lemurs are not in captivity and can, theoretically, come and go as they please, they are exceptionally tame, and this domesticity is heavily encouraged by the staff by hand-feeding. This was to such an extent that the lemurs were essentially reliant on humans and would have likely struggled without them on the island.

You can also take night time tours to see the Aye Aye (a very bizarre looking nocturnal lemur), and they are coaxed to the same spot by food which is left out for them every day, so they are completely reliant on humans.

We mentioned that the staff were passionate about the animals – this is certainly true, but a part of their role is clearly to ensure that the animals, whether naturally or not, are entertaining the guests. There was, for example, a lot of goading from the staff to encourage lemurs to jump onto guests shoulders (often without warning – I had to tell them very firmly I did not want them to jump on me, after one staff member coaxed them onto Murray without indicating he was about to do this) or to get lemurs as close as possible to humans so we could pose for selfies with them.

The staff did not seem to know if the lemurs were showing signs of distress or discomfort, though we could see them displaying signs of distress other guides had warned us about, such as swiping their paws at guests who got too close.

It is night time and the aye aye is illuminated by a torch from one of the guides. He looks startled and is clasping the coconut. He looks a bit like a furby with a long tail and is grey with a white face.
The aye aye clutching a coconut that has been left out for it

If you’re visiting Madagascar, we also have an in depth 3 week itinerary available here.

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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