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100 Miles of Wild: Madagascar's Limestone Labyrinth

CommunityJames Hipkiss

Following dramatic rescue by Madagascar Military, Adventure Science team discovers new dinosaur tracks, 1.6km cave system, and ancient archaeological site in the Tsingy de Bemaraha From October 1 -17,2014, the Adventure Science team, combining the backcountryskill of endurance athletes with academic research experts, travelled deep into the Strict Nature Reserve of Madagascar's Great Tsingy a UNESCO world heritage site, and dangerous limestone labyrinth that can only be accessed by teams of qualified academic researchers. The expedition also had the honour of carrying flag #112 of The Explorers Club, of which several participants are members. This was Adventure Sciences third flag expedition for The Explorers Club. With support from Kensington Tours and Delta Airlines, the expedition entitled 100 Miles of Wild: Madagascars Limestone Labyrinth, required the Adventure Science team to trek, climb, crawl, and navigate 100 miles of dangerously sharp rock, towering cliffs, and unknown cave systems, in order to accomplish the expedition goals which were to provide the first detailed map of the region, identify Lemur species native to the region, observe and record the locations of caves and caverns, and to identify geologically significant features, such as dinosaur tracks, along this 100 mile route. The expedition began on October 1st, 2014, when Dr.Simon Donato lead a highly experienced 3 person team into the tsingy as an advance survey team, tasked with doing a 6-8 hour reconnaissance of the area in order to refine the research plan (teams would accomplish their goals by walking transects through the tsingy daily). As the area is poorly mapped , the small team was caught off-guard by the difficulty and sheer dangerousness of the terrain.

The explorers were Kensington Tour Explorers in Residence, Dr Simon Donato, and Travis Steffens, Primatologist and Lemur expert joined by Canadian adventure racing legend, Jim Mandelli. Upon completing their eight hour trek to their destination, it was realised that the dangerous landscape prevented them from directly returning to base camp, leaving them without adequate hydration and food supplies. The Adventure Science communications team was able to notify the Malagasy Army to complete a full rescue with the assistance of Ed Holder, MP London West and Minister of Science and Technology for Canada, and Major General Dominque Jean Oliver Rakotozafy,Minister of National Defense for Madagascar. Once returned safely to base camp, the team was examined by the medical team members and Travis Steffens was treated for dehydration. For the next 10 days, the Adventure Science teamexplored and mapped an unexplored section of the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve ~10 kmnortheast of the village of Antsalova. During this exploration they discovered and mapped a massive, 1.6km cave system below the karst, which the team aptly named Anjohibetsara Big Beautiful Cave.

Completely unknown to locals, park agents, and researchers, the cave is thought to be the 3rd largest in the Tsingy, and35th largest in the country. Filled with bats, water filled passages, and beautiful stalactites, the find was significant for the region. Within the tsingy labyrinth, the Adventure Science team also discovered a clay vessel, believed to date to the 1600s, and thought to be left by the Vazimba the first inhabitants of Madagascar.In addition to the archaeological discovery, the team made a significant paleontological find, identifying two dinosaur trackways between the remote villages of Antsalova and Bevary. Verified by dinosaur track expert Dr. Alexander Wagensommer, these tracks are the mostnortherly known in the tsingy, adding support to the theory that this region hosts a rare mega tracksite. The tracks were made by a medium sized theropod (bipedal)dinosaur as they walked across ancient mudflats during low tide, likely in search of their next meal. Stories, photographs, and the official expedition report will be broadcast through the Adventure Science Facebook page, and as with any Adventure Science undertaking, all findings will be documented and made available free of charge to groups interested in learning more about this incredible part of the world at www.adventurescience.ca."