Tuesday, Dec. 16
Andasibe, Madagascar

The piercing howls woke me from my sleep.

I fumbled for my watch — 1 a.m. — and then let my head fall back onto my pillow to listen.

The high-pitched sounds resembled something between a car alarm and whale calls, several whines overlapping. Nestled in a bed in a chilly bungalow just outside Andasibe National Park (park #5 for me here!), I knew immediately what I had heard: the cries of the Indri lemur.

Mama Indri with baby on her back.

Mama Indri with baby on her back.

The Indri, at around three feet tall, are the largest of the nearly 60 lemur species that still exist in Madagascar, and, well, anywhere on earth, since lemurs don’t live anywhere else.

They’re also, I would argue, the most human. In addition to being the size of a child, they’re the only lemurs with short tails and also the only ones to give birth to just one baby instead of several at once.

While some lemurs resemble squirrels, rats or other rodents, running on all fours across tree branches, Indri jump from an upright position, like monkeys, as far as 10 meters.

The mammals are a must-see in Madagascar, I’d been told by travelers and locals alike. So on my way back to the capital, as I completed the eastern part of my loop around northern Madagascar, with just five days left in country, I detoured to see the Indri.

It didn’t take our guide long to spot them in the forest on account of the low hum the family was producing early this morning. After we stood for a while on the ground beneath them , craning our necks to see the mother carrying a baby on her back, they began marking their territory with those crazy howls. It was so loud I wanted to cover my ears. Instead, I took this video; it’s the audio, not the visual, that’s interesting:

We also glimpsed several other species of lemurs, including the diademed sifaka, which exists not only just in Madagascar, but also only in this one part of the country.

One came down to the ground near us, which is unusual since they usually remain high up in the trees, and I caught him on tape hopping down the path. As you’ll see briefly at the end of this video, even our guide was psyched (I can’t figure out how to rotate the video, so you’ll have to turn your head!):

I’ve become totally captivated by Madagascar’s unique wildlife — I’m a convert — loving it every time I see a mammal or plant that’s so odd it belongs in a fantasy film.

Fabulous millipede.

Fabulous millipede.

Today it was a special type of millipede — I wish I could tell you it’s name — that protects itself by rolling into a hard ball when a predator approaches.

I’d seen these before in Madagascar, but a much smaller version, the size of a marble — and Malagasy kids use them for just that. The green ones we came across today, probably a hundred of them surrounding a group of trees, were absolutely huge, looked like beetles and turned into hard-shelled balls with beautiful patterns when we touched them.

This fantasy nature isn’t isolated to the parks here. At Chris’ place in Maroantsetra, I encountered what I thought was a hedgehog or porcuppine in the yard when I went to use the loo in the middle of the night. It actually was a tenrec (click here to see a Web photo), Chris later told me, yet another mammal that exists only in Madagascar.

Countdown till I leave for the States: 5 days!