The Aire Protegée Loky Manambato is a remote tract of dry woodland, home to several troops of critically endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli), one of the world’s rarest primates. You reach it by making for the small town of DARAINA, 53km northwest of Vohemar. This has little to offer, but you’ll find a few shops, a decent little hotel, and the office of Fanamby, a conservation NGO where you buy your ticket for the sifakas and pick up a local guide.
The best time to see the sifakas, which are relentless browsers on leaves, flowers and seeds, is early morning or late afternoon: this is a hot district and by the middle of the day they tend to stop feeding and take a siesta. Once you locate them by their calls, they’re easy to spot, with their soft golden-white coats, apricot-coloured crowns, triangular black faces and large ears. Braver sifakas will approach you as close as any lemurs in Madagascar, leaning down from the trees to examine you at barely arm’s length, before powering off in marvellously horizontal, 8m leaps through the trees.
As well as the sifakas, the woods have a population of aye-ayes (you’ll see their nests if not the mysterious beasts themselves) and an as yet unidentified species of fork-marked lemur (Phaner), a noisy, nocturnal lemur that feeds on sap and tree gum. On the forest floor, look out for minuscule and quite common Brookesia ground chameleons.
This whole area is also a goldfield, honeycombed with deep pits dug by itinerant prospectors, and you’ll meet whole families panning and digging throughout the woods: they can get up to 80,000ar per gram for the grains they find (75 percent of the gold price on global markets). The jury is out on the impact that gold-diggers are having on the lemurs (they seem to co-exist happily enough), but there is inevitable habitat disturbance and destruction.