Mention that you’re traveling to Madagascar and without fail, you’ll be asked, “Are you going to see King Julian?” Every time.
For those in the know, DreamWorks released a film in 2005 called Madagascar, that starred a naïve and hilarious ring-tailed lemur called King Julian. He really was a funny guy who was easily loveable, so no wonder people are eager to joke about seeing him.
The truth was, we all wanted to meet him and his kin.
Lemurs, like those depicted in the movies, are endemic to Madagascar. Today, more than 100 species inhabit the island nation, from the tiny pygmy mouse lemur to the large Indri lemur. Fun fact, they are also the only animal primate in the country. Not so fun fact, all lemurs are now considered endangered species.
On one of our cultural days, we had the unique privilege to visit Lemurs’ Park, a private reserve 22km outside the capital, Antananarivo. Home to nine species of lemurs on five hectares of free-range land, we knew we were in for a real treat and had the cameras at the ready.
Moderating our expectations and unsure of what we were in for, we paid our entry fee and took our first steps inside the park. A tour guide navigated us through the first bends along the rustic path, pointing out native flora and fauna along the way including a bird’s nest the size of a beanbag resting ominously in the trunk of a large tree.
Then we spotted them. Our first lemurs in sight, way off in the distance, were having a morning nibble on some vegetation together. We were overjoyed and happily snapped away for what seemed ages, every minute testing the patience of our devoted guide.
Seeing a lemur in real life is great fun. Tick. We felt pretty good.
Then we rounded the next bend. To our left, within touching distance, was a family of these primates, hanging in bamboo, feasting on the local shrubbery. We just had to laugh. Here we were, five minutes ago thinking that seeing them from afar was as good as it was going to get, only to find, moments later, we were basically in their house, joining them for a meal.
In fact, one lemur bonded quickly with us. As our project secretary, Kate, bent down to get a good angle for the perfect shot of him, he casually moved along the railing and attempted to swipe the phone right out of her hand! Maybe he thought that was not his best side.
Once we recovered from this hilarious moment, we had hours of fun ahead as we discovered more and more lemurs willing to come up close and personal. The park asks visitors to keep at least two meters away from the lemur for protection, but the lemurs didn’t seem to play by the same rules and were happy to walk, play and sit within inches from us. Thanks to their curiosity, each of us walked away with intimate pictures of our new friends.
Lemurs are incredible creatures. As we explored the park though, we found that Madagascar is so much more than lemurs.
This beautiful country has extensive and divergent terrain, boasting exclusive and extraordinary flora and fauna, all around the island. Madagascar is said to be one of the most geographically diverse places on our planet. From resort-worthy coastal beaches and proud agricultural grasslands, to mountainous stretches and desert expanse, this nation has it all.
At the park, we enjoyed seeing the famous baobab trees in their infancy and meeting other critters like iguanas and chameleons. While the heroes of the day were certainly the lemurs, the broader glimpse of Madagascar’s biodiversity was tantalising. A day worth memorialising by the thousands of photos taken.
As a parting gift, a suitably nicknamed ‘dancing lemur’ bounded past us as we walked up to the exit. The cherry on top of an awesome day. It proved once and for all – lemurs do like to move it, move it!