Madagascar // Nosy Be and the far north //

Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Lokobé

The Réserve Naturelle Intégrale de Lokobé (Lokobé Strict Nature Reserve) is Nosy Be’s last area standing of pristine lowland rainforest. Considering how easy it is to walk up its eastern flanks, accessible on several footpaths, you’d be forgiven for not appreciating that on its western side, which rises vertiginously from the port at Hell-Ville to the highest point on the island (430m), this 7.4 square-kilometre rainforest is almost inaccessible.

Fauna and flora

Lokobé is home to a diverse range of Malagasy fauna and flora, including a particularly fine range of palms, notably an extremely rare endemic species, Dypsis ampasindavae (kindro in Malagasy), of which only thirty trees exist, most of them here. You’re almost certain to see the dramatic-looking, whiskery-eared black lemur (Eulemur macaco) and the very cute Nosy Be sportive lemur (Lepilemur tymerlachsonorum) on a day walk. Sexually dimorphic black lemurs (only males are black; females are chestnut with white beards) are easily encountered as they forage for fruit through the low canopy, unintentionally dispersing seeds as they go. And sportive lemurs are easily spotted in their customary tree holes, staring curiously at camera-wielding visitors at a convenient height for photography. The minuscule, endemic Nosy Be mouse lemur (Microcebus mamiratra) is another matter: you need to go for an extended after-dark walk, take a good head torch, and listen for high-pitched squeaks.

In the cold-blooded line, you’ll be treated to the brilliant turquoise-green Nosy Be panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) and, if you’re lucky, the arboreal, skink-like, emerald-green zonosaurus lizard (Zonosaurus boettgeri; thought extinct but rediscovered here in the 1990s), as well as countless small species of frogs and geckos.

Approach

The commonest way to reach Lokobé is as part of an organized trip. You drive from Hell-Ville to the sandy, backwater village of Ambatozavavy. From here you take a heavy and solid lakana – a mangrove wood pirogue, with an outrigger made of very light ylang-ylang wood – and paddle around the southeast extremity of Nosy Be. About 1km along the coast, you’ll see among the rocks on the shore the flash of red and white cloth – Nosy Be’s sacred colours signifying areas of ritual importance (Ambatozavavy was named after the curious shape of female genitalia, or vavy, naturally incised here into a boulder by a fluke of geology). A short while later you reach the backwater beach village of Ampasipohy, meaning “Short Beach”. Periodically overrun by tour groups at weekends, it’s a quick walk from here into the magical forest.

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