The Réserve Villageoise Anja, 11km west of Ambalavao, is a community-run forest reserve, incorporating the towering granite sugar loafs of the Massif d’Iandrambaky (“Three Brothers”), a swathe of boulder-strewn forest and the margins of a small dam lake. The mountains are sacred to the local Betsileo, who still visit burial sites in the rocks and for whom hunting lemurs is fady. Anja’s groups of ring-tailed lemurs have thrived and expanded in this northernmost extent of their range in eastern Madagascar – and the people of the local community, who have partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to maintain the reserve, benefit directly from tourists passing up or down the RN7.
You will certainly see ring-tails here; but to get the most out of a visit, it’s a good idea to organize payment and guides the evening before, spend a night in Ambalavao, and visit as early as possible after dawn. Ring-tails waking after a cold night in the trees are a delightful sight as they adopt their characteristic “sun worship” squatting poise, with arms outstretched to absorb the rays and ready their metabolisms for a morning of eating fruit, bark, sap and leaves. They’re particularly entertaining once they’ve warmed up, and especially if they have babies, which are characteristically the subject of great interest among other females. The young are born here a little earlier than usual for ring-tails, typically in early August, and twins are relatively common. The guides at Anja are good at locating the most photogenic subjects – and the best vantage points. If your timing is lucky, a mid-morning return to the road via the lake yields the sight of dozens of ring-tails scampering down to the shore to drink.
Ring-tails aside, Anja is productive for birders, who can look out for red-billed teals (Anas erythrorhyncha) on the lake and the dramatic Madagascar harrier-hawk (Polyboroides radiatus) circling for an opportunity to take a lemur.
As well as the shorter, wildlife-watching hikes (from 1 to 3hr), if you have suitable footwear you can do a much longer trek, including some scrambling, to reach one or more of the summits of the three domes: at around 1300m, they’re some 400m above the plain below.
There is a campsite at the reserve (2000ar per person), plus a snack bar and restaurant.