A nature photography tour of Madagascar, Part 3: Kirindy Forest

In the last two articles in this series, I wrote about my visits to Andasibe National Park, where I photographed lemurs and chameleons, and Tsingy Rouge National Park, where I saw beautiful erosion-formed formations. This time, I’d like to write about my visit to Kirindy Forest.

A Verreaux’s Sifaka, my favorite lemur species in Kirindy, feeding in a tree. The eyes on some of these lemur species are incredible.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
150mm, 1/1000 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

Kirindy Forest (or Kirindy Private Reserve) is a private nature reserve located in the west of Madagascar. The forest is home to a wide variety of animals, from many species of lemurs to fossas (a very weird-looking predator) to geckos and chameleons. Numerous species of plants and trees are also found in the region, the most famous and iconic of which is the baobab tree.

Baobab trees under post-sunset glow. The gaps between the trees made it easier to compose without creating overlap.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6
83mm, 13 sec, F11, ISO 200

From a photographic point of view, Kirindy is nothing less than a paradise and was one of my favorite locations on my month-long Madagascar trip. The wildlife is surprisingly easy to find and photograph (with many highly skilled and cheerful guides available on the premises), the baobabs are easy to get to, and there are comfortable accommodation options close by. The only bad thing is the Wi-Fi connection.

Lemurs are one family of primates Kirindy has no shortage of. There are no less than eight lemur species here, from the tiny Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur (the smallest primate in the world, weighing 30 grams) to red-fronted lemurs, sportive lemurs and sifakas. I photographed all of Kirindy’s diurnal species in three days, which shows how easy they are to find with a good guide. As to being easy to photograph, that’s a different story.

Red-fronted lemur

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
347mm, 1/125 sec, F5.6, ISO 400

The easiest species to find in Kirindy is the red-fronted lemur. They are small and relatively common, so one could say they’re also the least exciting of the local lemur species, but I found them to be very cute and expressive subjects.

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Unfortunately due to massive deforestation and climate change, Madagascar’s lemurs are losing their ability to migrate and access water. Authorities are trying to help them by giving them water. The red-fronted lemurs are, therefore, much less averse to getting close to humans. I really hope this doesn’t hurt them in the long run.

A red-fronted lemur is feeding in a tree. Its interaction with its environment is what makes this image. These animals are cathemeral, meaning that they are active during the day and at night, especially during the full moon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
403mm, 1/250 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

The interestingly named sportive lemurs appear not to be sportive at all. Most of the time, they rest in the trees to digest the plants they have eaten. But during the mating season, male sportive lemurs have been observed to box with each other, which gave them their unusual name.

This sportive lemur looked like it had one too many drinks the previous night!

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
516 mm, 1/500 sec, F6.3, ISO 1600

The crown jewel of Kirindy’s wildlife selection (in my opinion) is the Verreaux’s sifaka, a beautiful, medium-sized lemur. Its thick and silky fur is mostly white, other than dark brown patches on the top of the head, face and arms. Like all sifakas, it has a long tail that it uses as a balance when leaping from tree to tree, where they are capable of making remarkable leaps. Distances of 9–10m (30ft) are not uncommon.

A Verreaux’s sifaka lemur, beautifully framed between tree branches. Those eyes are to die for!

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, , Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
531mm, 1/320 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

As a rule, the better composed the jumping shots I got, the worse the sharpness was on them. These guys are notoriously hard to catch when jumping. Here’s an effort, with the sifaka showing its trademark Superman-style jump.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
150mm, 1/2500 sec, F5.6, ISO 800

Unfortunately, sifakas are very hard to photograph. They tend to stay very high up in the trees, which keeps them both far away and at awkward angles. This forces the photographer to use longer lenses, which becomes surprisingly tiresome when hand-holding the camera. I wanted to shoot at eye level but ended up shooting upward the vast majority of the time. They also just love hopping from tree to tree exactly when a photographer has finally found a good composition.

This sifaka looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Note the shooting angle is less than optimal here, due to the height of the tree it was sitting on.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
302mm, 1/800 sec, F5.6, ISO 400

As beautiful as they are shy. A lucky eye-level shot.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
421mm, 1/1000 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

My visit to Madagascar was during baby season for lemurs, which was wonderful. I ended up seeing many species carrying very young and impossibly cute baby lemurs, and the sifakas were no different.

Again, the challenge was the distance and their tendency to move around all the time, probably even more so when carrying babies. Unfortunately, about 30% of infants are lost to predators like the fossa, a cat-like mammal, and a smaller number to raptors such as the Madagascar harrier-hawk.

For the first 6-8 weeks, the infant clings to the mother’s stomach, but for the following 19 weeks, it clings to her back. During my trip, I saw infants up to 8 weeks old. I guess the signature eyes are there from birth!

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
600mm, 1/500 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

A lucky closer-range, eye-level shot of a baby sifaka in its mother’s fur.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
600mm, 1/125 sec, F6.3, ISO 800

I’m not much of a bird photographer, but several beautiful owl species are in Kirindy, and they were relatively easy to find.

Madagascar scops owl

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
516mm, 1/250 sec, F6.3, ISO 400

White-browed owl

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3
283mm, 1/160 sec, F5.6, ISO 400

Finally, the Kirindy area was once home to a huge forest of baobabs. Not many remain, but those that are still there are huge and impressive. It was fun photographing a group of baobabs in the late afternoon and early evening, under direct light and during post-sunset glow.

The more baobabs close together in one location, the harder they are to compose, but if you manage to combine multiple elements into one shot in a satisfying way, then perhaps you’ve achieved something.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 11-24mm
19mm, 1/100 sec, F14, ISO 100

Here, I used the gaps between the foreground trees to frame the background trees.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6
84mm, 0.8 sec, F14, ISO 100

I highly recommend visiting Kirindy Forest if you’re interested in Madagascar’s wildlife. The concentration of fascinating species and relaxed atmosphere are unmatched.

In the next article in this series, I will write about my journey from Tsingy De Bemaraha National Park to Isalo.

Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez’s work on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates and to his YouTube channel.

If you’d like to experience and shoot some of the world’s most fascinating landscapes with Erez as your guide, take a look at his unique photography workshops in Madagascar, Greenland, the Lofoten Islands, Namibia and Vietnam.

Erez also offers video tutorials discussing his images and explaining how he achieved them.

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