Ankarana Reserve

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Ankarana Special Reserve
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Map showing the location of Ankarana Special Reserve
Map showing the location of Ankarana Special Reserve
Location of Ankarana Reserve
LocationNorthern Madagascar
Nearest cityAntsiranana (Diego Suarez)
Coordinates13°4′22″S 48°54′53″E / 13.07278°S 48.91472°E / -13.07278; 48.91472Coordinates: 13°4′22″S 48°54′53″E / 13.07278°S 48.91472°E / -13.07278; 48.91472
Area182 km2 (70 sq mi)
Visitorsapprox. 6000 (in 2005)
Governing bodyMadagascar National Parks
WebsiteMadagascar National Parks

Ankarana Special Reserve in northern Madagascar was created in 1956. It is a small, partially vegetated plateau composed of 150-million-year-old Middle Jurassic limestone.[1] With an average annual rainfall of about 2,000 millimetres (79 in),[1] the underlying rocks are susceptible to erosion, thereby producing caves and underground rivers—a karst topography. The rugged relief and the dense vegetation have helped protect the region from human intrusion.

Ankarana Plateau, showing tsingy.

The plateau slopes gently to the east, but on the west it ends abruptly in the "Wall of Ankarana", a sheer cliff that extends 25 kilometres (16 mi) north to south, and rises as high as 280 metres (920 ft).[2] To the south, the limestone mass breaks up into separate spires known as tower karst. In the center of the plateau, seismic activity and eons of rainfall have dissolved the limestone away in deep gorges, and sometimes redeposited it in ribbons of flowstone. In places where the calcific upper layers have been completely eroded, the harder base rock has been etched into channels and ridges known as tsingy.[2]

The largest sinkhole in the Ankarana karst region, Mangily sinkhole, measures up to 700 metres (2,300 ft) across and 140 metres (460 ft) deep with a volume of 25 million cubic metres (33,000,000 cu yd). The area is sacred to the Antankarana people, who have historically taken refuge from encroaching enemy armies in its caves and other natural rock shelters.


Beginning in the 1960s, expatriate Frenchman Jean Duflos (who married locally and changed his name to Jean Radofilao) did a huge amount of exploration of the cave systems and subterranean rivers of the Massif, much of it on his own or with visiting speleologists.[3][4][5] A total of about 100 kilometres (62 mi) of cave passages within the massif have been mapped.[6][7] One of the most accessible caves, La Grotte d'Andrafiabe, alone comprises at least 8.035 kilometres (4.993 mi) of horizontal passages. Indeed the Massif contains the longest cave systems in Madagascar, and probably in the whole of Africa.[8]


A male Crowned lemur photographed at the Ankarana Special Reserve
Something disturbed the water deep inside the cave – it was the sort of noise a large animal would make sliding into a river. After so many days alone my mind ran riot. I tried to counter fear with logic. If there were crocodiles in my bathroom I would surely have encountered them by now, for I had swum the entire length of the little subterranean river several times. Perhaps it was mud sliding into the water.

Standing up to leave, I noticed a gentle grunting noise and turned towards it Silhouetted in the entrance, was the unmistakable shape of a Crowned Lemur. She paused, with her long tail held over her body like a furry question mark. Looking away, she grunted softly as if speaking to a friend outside. Then, reassured, the rest of her troop arrived, looked in my direction and, to my amazement, continued on their way down, descending the same familiar climb I had used. They were quite unruffled by my presence.

For generations, lemurs must have been coming here: tiny feet and hands had polished the rocks smooth down to the water. The troop disappeared through a gap in the boulders to a place where it was easy to drink. Five minutes later, they shot out of the cave with muzzles wet and stomachs bulging. This was a dangerous place for them with innumerable dark corners which could hide a Fosa – the lemurs' most dangerous predator. Yet they had to come here. Water was scarce and this one waterhole had to be shared by all the troops living in this isolated section of the forest.

Dr Jane Wilson[9] in Lemurs of the Lost World

Expeditions that first began cataloguing the animals and plants of the Special Reserve created around the Ankarana Massif in the 1980s[10] are described in Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth's travel narrative Lemurs of the Lost World and in the scientific press.[11][12][13][14] Discoveries included unexpected sub-fossil remains of large extinct lemurs[15][16][17][18] and surviving but previously undescribed species of blind fish,[19][20] shrimps[21] and other invertebrates.[22][23] Several expedition members contributed photos to an illustrated introductory guide to Madagascar which features the Crocodile Caves.[24]

During the 1986 expedition, Phil Chapman and Jean-Elie Randriamasy collated a bird list for the reserve and recorded 65 species from 32 families representing nearly a third of all bird species that breed in Madagascar. They also noted one interesting aspect of behaviour. They reported that there was an unusual strategy used by many of the small insect-eating songbirds. Species such as the Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone mutata), the Common Jery (Neomixis tenella), the Greenbuls (Phyllastrephus zosterops and P. madagascariensis), the Bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis), the Sunbird (Nectarina souimanga) and the Vagas (Lepopterus madagascarinus and Xenopirostris polleni) foraged together in mixed bands. Within each band different species seemed to specialise in where and how they searched out their insect prey. Some species concentrated on the trunk and branches of trees, some on slender boughs, others searched beneath the leaves. By acting together in this way they probably increased foraging efficiency as each species could catch others’ escaped prey. They were also safer from attack by predators, as the group as a whole was more likely to spot approaching danger.[13]

The Ankarana Reserve is an important refuge for significant populations of the crowned lemur (Eulemur coronatus)[25] Sanford's brown lemur (Eulemur sanfordi) and other mammal species.[12] The following lemurs are also recorded from the area: northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus), fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogalus medius), fork-marked lemur (Phaner furcifer), eastern woolly lemur (Avahi laniger), Perrier's sifaka (Propithicus diadema perrieri), aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) and the western lesser bamboo lemur (Hapalemur griseus occidentalis). In addition subfossils of the following lemurs have been found at Ankarana: greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus), indri (Indri indri), the sloth lemurs (Babakotia radofilai), Mesopropithicus dolichobrachion and Palaeopropithicus cf ingens plus Pachylemur sp., the huge Megaladapis cf madagascariensis/grandidieri, and the baboon lemur Archaeolemur sp.[17][18]

The Reserve also has several microendemic species of reptile and amphibian, including Madagascarophis lolo, Geckolepis megalepis, Tsingymantis antitra (a monotypic frog genus restricted just to Ankarana), Phelsuma roesleri, and Stumpffia be.


The southern entrance of the park is situated in Mahamasina at the Route nationale 6 some 108 km south-west of Antsiranana and 29 km north-east of Ambilombe.

See also[edit]

Madagascar dry deciduous forests


  1. ^ a b Rossi, G. (1974). "Morphologie et Evolution d'un karst en milieu tropical. L'Ankarana (Extreme Nord de Madagascar)". Memoires et Documents Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. 15: 279–298.
  2. ^ a b Reader's Digest (1980). Natural Wonders of the World. p. 48. ISBN 0-89577-087-3.
  3. ^ Duflos, J. (1966). "Bilan des explorations biospeleologique pour l'annee 1965". Revue de Geographie (Universite de Madagascar). 9: 225–252.
  4. ^ Duflos, J. (1968). "Bilan des explorations speleologique pour l'annee 1966". Revue de Geographie (Universite de Madagascar). 12: 121–129.
  5. ^ Peyre, J-C.; Arthaud, G.; Radofilao, J.; et al. (1982). "Expédition Spéléologique, Madagascar 1982". Club Alpin Francais / Federation Francaise de Spéléologie: 55pp.
  6. ^ Wilson, Jane (ed.) (1987). "The Crocodile Caves of Ankarana : Expedition to Northern Madagascar, 1986". Cave Science : Transactions of the British Cave Research Association. 14 (3): 107–119.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Mission Scientifique Britannique dans le Massif de l'Ankarana". Madagascar Matin.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Wilson, Jane (2014). Lemurs of the Lost World: exploring the forests and Crocodile Caves of Madagascar. Impact, London. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-874687-48-1.
  10. ^ Wilson, Jane M. (1987). "The Crocodile Caves of Ankarana, Madagascar". Oryx. 21 (1): 43–47. doi:10.1017/s0030605300020470.
  11. ^ Wilson, Jane M; et al. (1988). "Ankarana - a rediscovered nature reserve in northern Madagascar". Oryx. 22 (3): 163–171. doi:10.1017/s0030605300027794.
  12. ^ a b Wilson, J.M.; et al. (1989). "Ecology and Conservation of the Crowned Lemur at Ankarana, N. Madagascar with notes on Sanford's Lemur, Other Sympatrics and Subfossil Lemurs". Folia Primatologica. 52: 1–26. doi:10.1159/000156379.
  13. ^ a b Fowler, S.V.; et al. (1989). "A survey and management proposals for a tropical deciduous forest reserve at Ankarana in northern Madagascar". Biological Conservation. 47: 297–313. doi:10.1016/0006-3207(89)90072-4.
  14. ^ Stewart, Paul D. (1988). "Ankarana damaged". Oryx. 22 (4): 240–241. doi:10.1017/s0030605300022390.
  15. ^ Simons, E.L.; et al. (1990). "Discovery of new giant subfossil lemurs in the Ankarana Mountains of Northern Madagascar". Journal of Human Evolution. 19 (3): 311–319. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(90)90072-j.
  16. ^ Simons, E.L.; et al. (1992). "A new giant subfossil lemur, Babakotia, and the evolution of sloth lemurs". Folia Primatologica. 58: 197–203. doi:10.1159/000156629.
  17. ^ a b Godfrey, L.R.; Wilson, Jane M.; Simons, E.L.; Stewart, Paul D.; Vuillaume-Randriamanantena, M. (1996). "Ankarana: window to Madagascar's past". Lemur News. 2: 16–17.
  18. ^ a b Wilson, Jane M.; Godfrey, L.R.; Simons, E.L.; Stewart, Paul D.; Vuillaume-Randriamanantena, M. (1995). "Past and Present Lemur Fauna at Ankarana, N. Madagascar". Primate Conservation. 16: 47–52.
  19. ^ Banister, K.E. (1994). "Glossogobius ankaranensis, a new species of blind cave goby from Madagascar". Journal of Ichthyology & Aquatic Biology. 1 (3): 25–28.
  20. ^ Wilson, Jane M. (1996). "Conservation and ecology of a new blind fish, Glossogobius ankaranensis from the Ankarana Caves, Madagascar". Oryx. 30 (3): 218–221. doi:10.1017/s0030605300021669.
  21. ^ Gurney, A.R. (1984). "Freshwater shrimp genera Caridina and Parisia (Decopoda: Caridea: Atydae) of Madagascar with descriptions of new species". Journal of Natural History. 18: 567–590. doi:10.1080/00222938400770481.
  22. ^ Jane M. Wilson (1982). "A review of world Troglopedetini (Insecta, Collembola, Paronellidae), including an identification table and descriptions of new species" (PDF). Cave Science: Transactions of the British Cave Research Association. 9 (3): 210–226.
  23. ^ José G. Palacios-Vargas & Jane Wilson (1990). "Troglobius coprophagus, a new genus and species of cave collembolan from Madagascar with notes on its ecology" (PDF). International Journal of Speleology. 19 (1–4): 67–73. doi:10.5038/1827-806x.19.1.6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-23.
  24. ^ Bradt, Hilary (ed.) (1988). Madagascar. Aston Publications, Bourne End, UK. p. 96. ISBN 0-946627-28-2.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  25. ^,


  • Wilson, Jane (2013). Lemurs of the Lost World: exploring the forests and Crocodile Caves of Madagascar. Impact, London. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-874687-48-1.
  • Walsh, Andrew (2012). Made in Madagascar: Sapphires, Ecotourism, and the Global Bazaar. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-4426-0374-5.

External links[edit]