The bumpy 90km road to the Réserve Privée Berenty passes though a fascinating range of natural habitats, from the moist forest of Fort Dauphin into the spiny forest environment of the lower Mandrare River, with stands of impressive Adansonia za baobabs along the way. Further upstream beyond a sea of sisal plantations, lies the small town of Ifotaka en route to the heart of Antandroy country.
Renowned as the site of primatologist Dr Alison Jolly’s ground-breaking research on the female-dominated social life of lemurs, the Réserve Privée Berenty covers just 2.5 square kilometres of gallery forest, including some massive Indian tamarinds (Tamarindus indica), along the west bank of the Mandrare River. Amid vast plantations of spiky, cactus-like sisal plants, this iconic reserve, with its broad, well-maintained footpaths, is still considered a must-go by many visitors to Madagascar for its photo opportunities and the sight of “dancing” sifakas. Although the native ring-tails and Verreaux’s sifakas are indeed very habituated and happy to frolic among every new busload of visitors, Berenty is far from being any longer the only place to see these species (Nahampoana is increasingly good), and nor is it representative of natural lemur society in the wild. Reservations aside, it’s still a wonderful place, and remains one of the world’s leading primate research centres.
Other lemurs at Berenty include the little white-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus) a nocturnal species that you’ll often see in its low tree holes by day, and a hybrid population of introduced red-fronted brown and red-collared brown lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons and E. collaris). The reserve also has a spectacular roosting site of the giant fruit-eating bat, the Madagascar flying fox (Pteropus rufus). Roughly 1000 of these bats, with wingspans of 1m, take off at dusk each evening on their nightly fruit-foraging missions.