Expert Reviews – Amber Mountain NP
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Chameleons great and small
Madagascar’s most northerly national park protects the forested upper slopes of the 1,477m-high Montagne d'Ambre (Amber Mountain), a volcanic mountain named after an amber-like tree resin that supposedly has curative qualities. We hiked several of the short trails that run through the park, stopping to admire some of the scenic enclosed green crater lakes and small waterfalls that dot the mountain. Amber Mountain isn’t that great for lemurs – the only ones we saw were crowned lemur and Sanford’s brown lemur – but it is truly remarkable when it comes to chameleons. Among those we encountered were the blue-nosed Boettger's chameleon, large-headed Amber Mountain chameleon and centimetre-long Amber Mountain leaf chameleon (a leaf-litter dweller regarded to be the world’s smallest reptile until an even tinier species was discovered on Nosy Hara in 2005). It is also an excellent place to see leaf-tailed geckos, which are near invisible to predators active during the day and human eyes due to their mottled bark-like scaling and habit of resting motionless on a tree trunk with their body flattened. We were also fortunate enough to see the Amber Mountain rock thrush, a bird whose entire global population is confined to this one single forest block.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
Endemism galore in pristine rainforest
Amber Mountain National Park must rank as one of Madagascar’s most scenic parks. The pristine rainforest reaches 40m/131ft high into the sky and orchids, tree ferns and bird nest ferns are just some of the more iconic plants that caught my eye in this environment renowned for its floral diversity. I saw crowned and Sandford’s brown lemur, but it is the chameleons that steal the show here. I managed to see six species in a short walk along the Petit Circuit (small circuit) which is only a couple of kilometers long but takes in two beautiful waterfalls. My guide managed to spot two chameleons which were high on my wish list as they are endemic to Amber Mountain and can be found nowhere else in the world; the Amber Mountain chameleon and the tiny Amber Mountain leaf chameleon. The latter is the second smallest chameleon on earth and it fits comfortably on a fingertip.