Berenty Private Reserve
The Berenty Private Reserve is one of the best known tourist destinations in Madagascar. Established in 1936 as a reserve on a sisal plantation, it opened for tourism in 1980 and is still operated by the de Heaulme family, the original owners. Berenty is located approximately 82 km west of the airport at Tolagnaro (Fort Dauphin). The drive from Tolagnaro takes about three hours without stops (owing to the poor condition of the road). However, it is best to schedule a full day for this trip because the scenery and the attractions along the way make this one of the most interesting stretches of road in Madagascar. Over the last 30 years, Berenty has probably been the most visited and most filmed of all sites in Madagascar.
Berenty is a must for first-time visitors, and often the first stop on any inaugural trip to South Madagascar. Although sometimes crowded in the high season, it is still a delightful place and one where the lemur-watcher can immediately add four or five species to a lemur life-list. The reserve is also excellent for birdwatching, and has what must be the most accessible roosting site for the Madagascar flying fox (Pteropus rufus) in the entire country.
Berenty Private Reserve has large populations of ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) and Verrreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi), which are very evident and usually in or near the parking lot, greeting visitors upon arrival. There is also an introduced population of hybrid red-fronted brown lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons)×red-collared brown lemurs (Eulemur collaris), the offspring of small groups of these two species that were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s. The introduced lemurs surely compete with the native species, probably to the detriment at least of the ring-tails, but they are there to stay. Research on the ring-tails at Berenty has been going on for nearly 50 years, led by Dr. Alison Jolly and her colleagues and involving numerous other researchers. A number of publications by Dr. Jolly are readily available. The most recent of these is a fascinating book entitled Lords and Lemurs. It focuses both on the history of Berenty and on the behavior and ecology of the lemurs, and is highly recommended.
Three nocturnal species are also present. The white-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus) is common and readily seen, even in the daytime in its sleeping sites. Research has also indicated that there are two mouse lemurs at Berenty, the gray (Microcebus murinus) in the gallery forests and the gray-brown (Microcebus griseorufus) in the adjacent spiny forest patches. Both are commonly seen in the warmer months.
A further mammalian highlight of Berenty is visiting the Madagascar Flying Fox roost, were about 300 of these impressive animals sporting 1,25-meter wingspans spend their day squabbling and presumably sleeping.
The Berenty Reserve is situated along the Mandrare River and covers approximately 250 ha of gallery forest dominated by large tamarind trees (Tamarindus indica) and adjoining spiny forest, dominated by Alluaudia procera and Alluaudia ascendens. These patches of natural habitat are in the middle of the sisal plantation that was established in 1930.
Although most visitors go only to the gallery forest and to a small, adjacent patch of spiny forest in the immediate vicinity of the bungalows, we also recommend excursions to several other forest patches in the area. These include the gallery forest of Bealokoa and the magnificent spiny forest patch at Anjapolo, located just 15 km from the headquarters of the reserve and still part of Berenty. The forest at Anjapolo is rich in Didierea trolli, an impressive species of Didiereaceae not found in the more frequented spiny forest patches in the main part of Berenty.
Exploring Berenty Reserve for a full day, we hope to find Madagascan Sandgrouse, Madagascan Green Pigeon, Madagascan Buttonquail, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Madagascan Sparrowhawk, Giant, Crested, Running, and Red-capped Couas, Chabert, Hook-billed, and Sickle-billed Vangas, Grey Emutail, Grey-headed Lovebird, Subdesert Brush Warbler, and Humblot’s Heron, and possibly also Madagascan Cuckoo-Hawk, which is, however, difficult to find. On night outings we will hunt for Rainforest Scops Owl, White-browed Hawk-Owl, and Torotoroka Scops Owl.
For those wishing to fly in by charter, there is also a small airstrip on the grounds of the plantation. If you can afford this option, we recommend flying first to Tolagnaro (Fort Dauphin) and doing the above route in one direction, then flying out from Berenty once your visit is over to avoid retracing your steps.
Bungalows are available for overnight stays, and there is also a good restaurant on the premises. Berenty is accessible all year round, but September and October are the favored months for observing baby lemurs, while December through March is the best time to see native reptiles. Temperatures in the austral summer can be quite hot and nights in the austral winter can be quite cool, so dress accordingly. You will also need to be sure to book well in advance since this is one of most heavily visited sites in the country, especially in the peak season.
Watch more photos about Berenty Private Reserve here.