Berenty Private Reserve is the easiest place to see Ringtail lemurs and ‘dancing’ Verreaux sifakas in a 'natural' setting and, consequently, probably the island's best known nature reserve. Created 70 years ago by the de Heaulme family, which still owns and runs it, Berenty Reserve is a small area of in the middle of what used to be spiny forest but is now largely a sea of (alien) sisal fields. Dr. Alison Jolly’s Lords and Lemurs is a vivid account of the creation of Berenty and relations between the de Heaulmes and post-colonial Madagascar.
West of the Ranopis Mountains, which mark the transition zone between the semi-arid southern domain and the permanently humid eastern domain, Berenty is a small reserve on the banks of the Mandrare River. Its roughly 250 hectares encompass spiny forest and, closer to the river, dry Tamarind gallery woodland. Due to its floral composition, the spiny forest at Berenty looks quite different from that at Ifaty. The arboretum near the Berenty restaurant contains a collection of the extraordinary flora of the spiny forest, all identified, and may enrich your exploration of this threatened habitat.
There is a network of broad, well-maintained trails along which independent exploration is permitted.
By day, you will see numerous Ringtail lemurs and Verreaux' sifakas, as well as some hybrid Brown lemurs, which were introduced to Berenty. At night, look for White-footed sportive lemur, Grey mouse lemur, the newly recognised Red-and-grey mouse lemur, and common and Lesser hedgehog tenrec.
Reptiles are prolific, including Warty and Jewell chameleons, various skinks and lizards and snakes such as the Madagascar ground boa. The Radiated tortoise, Geochelone radiata, and the Spider tortoise, Pyxis arachnoides, are both found in the reserve and in enclosures. The latter were rescued from markets or bred in captivity. Remember that all endemic Malagasy tortoises are threatened by the illegal trade in reptiles.
Birding is good and around 100 bird species have been recorded at Berenty. Among the most sought-after resident species are Madagascar cuckoo-hawk, the stately Giant coua, Crested coua, White-browed owl, Sicklebill, Hook-billed and Chabert's vangas, Common newtonia and Madagascar mannikin.
When to go
Berenty can be visited year round. It has cold, dry winters and hot summers (Nov– Feb), when temperatures can exceed 40°C and heavy thunderstorms can occur. Ringtails generally give birth in Sept/Oct, at the end of the dry season, enabling them to wean their young in February/March, the season of abundance.
You should be aware that around 8000 people visit Berenty each year and it is an obligatory stop on virtually every package tour. If you wish to spend more than a night at Berenty, plan your trip well in advance.
Berenty is west of Fort Dauphin, about 3 hours’ journey along a deteriorating road. You will know you are close to Berenty when you arrive at the ghastly sisal plantations surrounding the reserve, redeemed only by some splendid specimens of the large baobab, Adansonia Za.