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Expedition to Ankarana National Park by Ellie Harland

Ben, Sophie, Brinley, Freddie S and I have spent our penultimate weekend at Ankarana National Park in the Sofia province of Mainland. We set out from Nosy Be around 8:30 am Saturday morning and took a boat to Ankify port on Mainland where we then travelled in a Taxi Brouse for 4 and a half hours to our destination.

After some rest and food we set out on a night walk. We looked for lemurs, geckos and chameleons. Unfortunately, Madagascar is currently in winter and while that means cooler, drier days it also means there is no fruit on the trees, and with fruit come lemurs. We therefore had quite a hard time spotting lemurs, we shone our torches around looking for reflective eyes to shine back. Ben spotted a Mouse Lemur on two occasions which were very small, as the name suggests, and rapid moving. We also chanced upon a Sportive Lemur as well. Following our night walk we resided to our beds.

The next morning we set off just after 7 for our hike with our guide Oscar. Along the way we saw Paradise Flycatcher birds, Magpie Robins and Hopu birds which are orange with black and white stripes. We saw Crown and Brown Lemurs many times throughout the day also.

I was particularly fascinated by the Tsingy rock formations. The rocks are a variation of Limestone (CaCo^3) which is more resistant, despite this the rock is still affected by carbonic acid which can manifest as acid rain and erode away the rock. This forms small, sharp mountain like structures. The Tsingy Rary, which is a large area of Tsingy rocks can have crevasse type structures between 10 - 25 meters. While leaning on a railing to view down into one of the crevasses Brinley managed to break the railing and almost went tumbling.

Oscar pointed out a variety of trees on our hike such as the infamous Baobab tree and we learned that 1 meter circumference equates to 1 century of life. We saw the Elephant Foot Tree and Bottle Tree which are pretty much just that. We were amused to learn about the Vazha Tree which inhabits cracks among the Tsingy Rary. In Malagasy "Vazha" refers to "white person" so it is nicknamed the Vazha Tree as it literally gets sunburned and therefore peels. We learned that Euphorbia plants such as Cacti and other groups produce a milk which is toxic, especially to the eyes.

We visited a sink hole which had been eroded and provided a massive opening to the largest underground system in all of Africa, about 150km. The sink hole would be about 15 meters squared and just as deep, during the wet season the hole would fill to the brim plus flooding 3 more meters including the area we stood and acted as a giant drain. It could fill and empty again all in three days. We sat here while we ate our packed lunch which had been provided.

Next we headed for the bat cave. At first we went in on the lower level and looked up at all the screeching bats above. These were a very large variety called Flying Fox. Next we went into the top area of the cave where we could see more bats including a much smaller variety. We looked at stalactites and stalagmites and were told that they form based on the acidity of the mineral calcite. When active they have a sparkling exterior that glistens in the torch light. I also learned, when I smacked my head off one having just been told to mind our heads, that they sound hollow.

Once we returned to our rooms for that evening we napped and showered until dinner at 7. Freddie had forgotten his shampoo so borrowed Sophie's Lush shampoo bar. Apparently this was a complex concept for him and Sophie had to explain how to use it. We went to bed at varying times and were woke at 4:20 am to get the Taxi Brouse back to Ankify Port. From the port we got an incredibly speedy speed boat which bounced across the waves back to Nosy Be.

We spent the rest of the day in Hell Ville initially finding the answer to multiple queries we'd had over the weekend such as learning how a carrot reproduces (carrots are usually picked before the flower has a chance to grow and produce seeds, the carrot acts as a food store for the plant), what the 4 biggest islands in the world are (Greenland, Borneo, Papa New Guinea and Madagascar, not necessarily in that order) and what the three statistical analysis tests we used at college were (Standard Deviation, Chi Squared and Spearman’s Rank).

On Tuesday we returned to our projects with Freddie on marine, Sophie, Ben and Brinley on teaching and me on construction. The construction project has only been running the last couple of weeks but for me has already been the most rewarding as you can see the immediate impact that you are making. We have built a whole new path from camp to Ampang and there are other projects to begin in Ampang soon. There is currently a construction trip on for four days that many of the Leapers have gone on which takes them to the mainland to lay the foundations for a school.

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