Ecology, Biogeography & Conservation Article
by Euan John Edwards, Madagascar

Early in 2001 I went to the Comoros, that bunch of three, or four islands depending on political views, that always seem to be having coups. No coups this time, it was Ramadan, so everything was extremely quiet. Imagine giving up food, water, drinking, smoking, and sex during the day for a whole month.

So during the day most people just sat around waiting for the sun to set. And what nice sunsets they have. It was the height of the rainy season so the temperatures were hitting the mid to high thirties (ºC), and rain was falling frequently, 90-100% humidity. But for $4 USD/kg I managed to pick up seven and a half kilos of crayfish/spiny lobster to get me through a couple of days. But the beer was $1USD/can, kept me relatively dry at that price.

When I was able to come out of my sweat induced lethargy I managed to go see a little of the bush. We went to the North of Grand Comoro to find Phelsuma dubia, P.comorensis, and Furcifer cephalolepis.

Found all them in reasonable quantities in town, so headed up into the bush. With the help of a guide I was shown a grove of Eucalyptus trees, how interesting, then followed a loop back behind the village we started from. So I wasted $5, and two hours to be shown nothing, but it was good exercise, I guess.

The F.cephalolepis were found from 300m to 650m. They were found on small mango trees, Eucalyptus "bushes", Lantana, "weed" type plants, and basically whatever bushes were around in disturbed areas. They were all found singly except once when I found a receptive female in the top part of a bush and a male heading up towards her. The majority of females were not "overly" gravid, i.e. not "bean bags".

Temperatures at Maweni, the town in the North we visited was in the shade, at 8:40am, 21ºC, in the sun 28ºC. By 12:45 the shade temperature was 25ºC, and in the sun 30ºC. The F.cephalolepis body temperatures at 12:45 was 26ºC. This was at an elevation of approx 630m. A total of 78 (52:26) cephalolepis were collected in a space of two hours, over an area of approximately 1000kmx, with the help of locals. It was from this area that all those exported so far have been collected, as far as I am aware.

After that. the beach was required. There were nearly no tourists around so it was a shock to see a couple of white fellas. But the beach was white, the water crystal clear, and the fish plentiful. No interesting fish were seen, but a moray decided to push me around when I stumbled on his home. There were also gobies by the hundred "sunbathing" on the lava rocks, fighting over tidbits with the local skink, Cyrptoblepharus boutoniiater.

A couple of days later a trip to the South of Grand Comoros was required. I found Phelsuma pasteuri, and Furcifer cephalolepis, plus some Mabuya comorensis. The P.pasteuri were only found on one species of plant, it looked like an Aloe, growing to 6; (1.8m) in diameter. Temperatures at Kove, the village in the south, in the shade were 28ºC at 11:00am, in the sun at 11:00am 39ºC. Temperatures at Simboussa, by Kove at 14:00 in the shade were 28ºC, in sun 34ºC. In one hour 55(41:14)º F .cephalolepis were collected at Simboussa. All animals were seen in the shade, the UV-B "Sure Card" read 4-11% UVB at each reading of where the chameleon actually was.

I watched a spectacle of "chameleon football", this "game" consisted of children kicking a chameleon back and forwards. Wildlife appreciation has still to reach some people.

Another day at the beach followed. I left the hardest to last, a climb up the sleeping volcano Mt Karthala, the highest point at 2361m, and still smoking - it last erupted in 1977. We arrived at the start of the climb at 11:00am, with no food in our stomachs, and one and a half litres of water between two of us, plus a small packet of biscuits. The guide book said lots of things which meant little until after we finished the climb. Thirty kilometres, and nine hours later we returned to the starting point. I was "knackered" to say the least. Next time I will eat, and will take food, and water, and will wear shoes, not sandals. You learn by experience I'm told. There was not much wildlife to be seen as the track is frequently used by the locals to collect wood, and farm, plus the guide did not stop talking with his mate the whole time. I did get to see two endemic birds, the Mt Karthala White Eye, and another bird only discovered in 1982, forgot the name. There were the Comoros Fody, and a large Pigeon as well, no reptiles. But we went as fast as we could go, so some time spent there may turn something up. Recently a frog on been found there.

The last day was spent lying down, as my legs were a bit sore, I will have to get some more exercise. Around the house were I was staying, just North of Moroni there were plenty of Phelsuma v-nigra to occupy my eyeballs as I loafed around. The humidity on the coast was 90-100%, 24hrs a day, the coast temperature was 26ºC-32ºC. The loafing was not my wish, I had to rely on others. Well, the island is only 60km by 20km so there was not much to fill one's time, the ideal place for someone to do absolutely nothing.

This page last updated on: Sunday, April 7, 2002

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