It was when we couldn't find the flufftail that I realized the full extent of Madagascar's challenge when it comes to ecotourism. It isn't that the country is lacking in wildlife. In our 10 days on this island off Africa's east coast, we had already spotted numerous lemur species, dozens of different types of birds and even some of the more cryptic chameleons, insects and frogs. Almost every one of these creatures is found nowhere else on Earth.
But the absence of that flufftail sounded a warning note. We were looking for the slender-billed flufftail — a shy, reddish-brown bird — in the pouring rain while tightrope-walking the muddy, raised edge of a rice paddy. Of course I slipped, soaking my right hiking shoe in the ankle-deep water. That was a nuisance, but I was more concerned about the missing bird.
According to a birding guide book, the flufftail was supposed to be there, in a little slice of wetland. But not only was it not there, neither was the wetland.