Unexpectedly, the relative monotony of the RN7 highway is broken where it plunges through a large tract of dry forest, the Parc National Zombitse-Vohibasia, a ragged zone of patches of western deciduous woodland that also incorporates some of the southern, spiny forest flora. Among the generally low trees are two baobabs, Adansonia za and A. madagascariensis, and a wide range of wildlife. Although declared a national park in 1997, maps of the area at the time show how much forest has been felled since then, especially on the western side nearer Sakaraha. While not a must-see, the small, accessible sector of Zombitse is very easy and comfortable to visit: the wildlife here is more prolific than in Isalo and you’ll generally have the wide, flat trails to yourself.
The park is separated into the southern Zombitse area (around 160 square kilometres), most of which is north of the RN7 and hard to visit, and the northern Vohibasia area (around 200 square kilometres), which is further north still and more or less inaccessible. Get to Zombitse as early as possible for the best wildlife – especially if you want to spot Appert’s tetrakas foraging.
If you only have an hour or two, follow the 500m loop of the Circuit Ritikala on the south side of the RN7 highway. The 5km Circuit Lobo is an eastern extension of the same Ritikala trail, for which you should allow half a day, with an early start. The Zombitse sector’s northern trail, on the north side of the road, is the Circuit Mandresy, for which you should allow a good three hours.
One of Madagascar’s rarest birds, the largely terrestrial warbler, Appert’s tetraka (Xanthomixis apperti, also known as Appert’s greenbul), has its last main refuge here; it can usually be seen in the undergrowth along the Circuit Ritikala. Naturalists also visit for a green-and-gold coloured endemic lizard of the southwest, the Standing’s day gecko (Phelsuma standingi), usually seen in pairs on larger tree trunks, and eight species of lemurs, including ring-tails and the relatively habituated Verreaux’s sifaka.
The one lemur to look out for, though, is the Hubbard’s or Zombitse sportive lemur (Lepilemur hubbardorum) – only identified in 2006 and endemic to the forest (the sportive lemurs here were formerly considered to be the red-tailed species, L. ruficaudatus). Once you get your eye in, Hubbard’s are easy to see by day, peering – orange-eyed and splay-fingered – from their low-level tree holes. The star of the forest is the nimble, noisy, squirrel-sized pale fork-marked lemur (Phaner pallescens), which you may manage to see if you’re lucky and get to do a night walk, though it’s almost impossible to photograph as it bobs and dashes through the branches.