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Editor’s Note: This article is brought to you by Adventure Science team member Ian MacNairn. Along with working as a part of the Adventure Science crew, Ian is a North Face sponsored athlete and one of the best ultrarunners in Canada. You can find more of Ian’s work at Canadian Running Magazine.

To learn more about Adventure Science’s expedition, check out A Military Rescue in Madagascar: Risks of Exploring Uncharted Regions and Adventure Science’s 100 Miles of Wild Expedition to the Tsingy de Bemaraha (Madagascar): Part I.

 

 

 


 

Adventure Science

The Adventure Science team has returned from a successful scientific field expedition in the Tsingy de Bemaraha forest in western Madagascar. Between October 1st and 16th, 2014, Adventure Science conducted its 12th expedition led by Simon Donato and carrying Flag 112 of The Explorers Club . Eleven researchers adventured within difficult to access sections of the northern Tsingy region north of the town of Antsalova. The group was comprised of a team with diverse skills, knowledge and experience. Each member was selected for their expertise in working in remote and unsupported locations. Each team member not only arrived with experience and knowledge of scientific inquiry but also expertise in the rock climbing, mountaineering and long-distance self-supported travel. The expedition was supported by Kensington Tours and Delta Airlines, and the team featured three of Kensington’s Explorers-in-Residence: Simon Donato (geologist and expedition leader), Travis Steffens (primatologist) and George Kourounis (caver and storm-chaser).

Adventure Science

Adventure Science arrived in the Tsingy with numerous objectives for the expedition including: exploring and mapping the poorly, if ever, studied region; searching for and identifying archaeological sites of the Vazimba people; conducting lemur surveys; and searching for dinosaur footprints and tracks.

On all fronts, the expedition was successful. The team was able to explore and map a section of the Tsingy forest. During exploration, the team came across archaeological remains in the form of a ceramic pot dating to sometime in the 1600s –remnants of Vazimba use and habitation. The team also happened upon a never-before explored cave. During the search for dinosaur tracks, the team identified multiple footprints constituting two distinct trackways. Finally, the team conducted daily lemur surveys and identified, or found evidence of, nine of eleven species thought to exist in the region.

Adventure Science

 

Below are the highlights from the trip in relation to the team’s objectives:

 

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Mapping & Caving

During the first days of survey in the Tsingy, Adventure Science was able to map some of the limestone labyrinth. And, in exploring the formations, the team discovered a large cave, dubbed Anjohibetsara – Malagasy for “big, beautiful cave.” The team spent three days exploring and mapping the entirety of the cave. This cave is the third longest known cave in the Bemaraha Tsingy and is estimated to be the 35th longest known cave in Madagascar at approximately 1,600m (about 1 mile) in length. The cave features numerous stalactites, soda straws and flowstone. The cave also contains several water filled passages, two of which the team explored at length. The cave is home to at least three species of bat, an unidentified shrimp species found only in the water-filled passage and a species of cave owl.

 

Adventure Science

Archaeological Remains

In addition to exploring newly discovered caves, the team identified the remains of Vazimba-style pottery within a smaller cave. The Vazimba were the first human inhabitants of Madagascar, thought to cross over to Madagascar from mainland Africa by way of the Mozambique Channel. The pottery found was in the form of a well-preserved ceramic pot and nearby sherds (small pieces broken off from the same pot), estimated to date to the 1600s. It was truly a fortunate discovery as the labyrinthine nature of the Tsingy results in innumerable hiding places for evidence of human use and habitation such as pottery, graves and other cultural artifacts. The discovery of the pottery and additional sherds supports the belief that the Vazimba people visited and possibly inhabited this region of the Tsingy in the past.

 

Adventure Science

Dinosaur Tracks

During the expedition, four members of the team conducted a self-supported and ultra-light three-day survey with the hopes of finding dinosaur tracks. On the second day of the survey, this smaller team discovered two highly eroded trackways within a dried seasonal creekbed. The tracks were made by theropod (i.e., three-toed, two-legged) dinosaurs. Though only two distinct trackways were identified, the site adds to a larger site of tracks further to the south providing additional evidence to consider the region as a mega-trackway. This would suggest that, at one point, dinosaurs migrated north and south along the edge of the Tsingy forest. Only about a dozen such mega-trackways have been identified globally.

 

Adventure Science

Lemur Survey

During daily surveys, Adventure Science observed eight species of lemur and found evidence of a ninth. The populations appeared healthy in terms of density and distribution within the Tsingy 
forest near the team’s base camp and in the areas surveyed. The species identified included grey mouse lemur, Bemaraha woolly lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Decken’s sifaka, Bemaraha sportive lemur, Peter’s mouse lemur, Coquerel’s giant mouse lemur and rufous brown lemur. Evidence of aye-aye lemurs, an insectivorous lemur, was found by the team in the form of boring into bamboo plants  – when the aye-aye search for grub inside the bamboo shoot.

Adventure Science

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