Dear friends,

Another day in Berenty Private Reserve with a visit to a small museum on the property to give us an idea of the diversity of the flora and fauna of this part of the country as well as information about the Malagasy people from this region.  We wandered in the morning waiting for groups of sifaka to cross from one part of the forest to another with their leaping two-legged dance which is wonderful to watch. I probably should have attempted to video some of the ‘dance’ but I tried for some still shots although not very successfully.

Waiting for an opportune moment to move through the treetops, otherwise known as ‘hanging about in trees’.

Watching us from above.

Checking the terrain and for others of the group.

Ready, steady …

… and GO !

There’s a folk story about the very distinctive colouring of the sifaka with its black face, and why it wants to attack humans. It is told that the sifaka has hands and feet like us because it used to be human. But once an evil stepmother hit her stepdaughter in the face with a soot-covered ladle, sending her flying into the trees. And the girl stayed there in the trees with a black mask on her face. So now when her descendants, the sifaka, see humans they angrily say, “Aforotrako – I’m going to get you.”

There is something just so appealing about that slightly manic stare, is there not?

In the afternoon we ventured into the spiny forest which is like nowhere else on Earth, but it’s disappearing fast. It’s a bizarre Dr Seussian world of spiky octopus trees and swollen baobabs and almost all its species exist only in Madagascar. The strange vegetation teems with even weirder wildlife: there are the white sifaka and other lemurs that are impervious to thorns, birds that sing communally and a chameleon that spends most of its life as an egg.  Once there were ten-foot tall elephant birds and gorilla-sized lemurs too, but they went extinct just a few centuries ago.

Unsurprisingly, scientists have long ranked the Spiny Forest as one of the world’s most important ecoregions.  Even so, hardly anyone outside Madagascar has heard of it. The tragedy is that the Spiny Forest is rapidly and silently going up in smoke, being used as charcoal, while the world looks the other way.

A large spiny octopus tree.

Spiny palms.

Huge cactus leaves.

Thorn-covered branches which the sifaka can climb, sit and lie on.

Flowers blooming in the spiny forest.

Leaves and then thorns sprouting directly from the trunk.

An amongst the spiky trees and shrubs there are the mighty baobab trees, some estimated to be some 600 years old.

Feeling small, and young beside an ancient baobab tree. 

A lizard makes its way across the red earth below the forest, its colours toning with the ground it walks on.

A small brown lemur holds tight to a smooth bamboo stalk amidst the spiny forest.

A sifaka dances across the path just in front of us.

Snuggled beneath a tree is a small tortoise.

Nearby, a black scorpion crosses our path – it was only about 10 cm, but can still give a ferocious sting.

The spider hanging above us was bigger, and although I am not crazy about spiders, one has to admire the beautiful colours.

Another spider moving across the sand with an intricate pattern on its body and striped legs.

Phew, the welcome pretty sight of a bright blue butterfly amongst all the greens and browns of the forest.

A lizard, almost invisible within a crack in the tree trunk.

A sleepy dragon chameleon holds fast to a branch.

A wonderful lizard with an articulated tail – like something out of ‘Game of Thrones’.

But from another angle, it resembles nothing more than a motorbike racer, crouched over his machine. 

For the walks in Berenty Private Reserve, we were guided by the very experienced Benoit who travelled with us from Port Dauphin and provided us with a plethora of facts and observations. His keen eyes found even the smallest marvels for us to see.

Guide Benoit.

One of the local wardens of the spiny forest perches in a hollow in the trunk of a baobab tree. 

In the morning we had been amused by this youngster, daughter of another of the wardens,
who had been busy with her iPad and who also liked the colour orange as did the two gents pictured above.

The view as we drove back, looking out over the cultivated sisal plantation to the mountains beyond.

 Back home to the Berenty Reserve for a shower and dinner.

Lovely silhouette of spiny plants against the setting sun.

Tomorrow’s blog will also be about our Berenty stay and the drive back to Port Dauphin. The last day we had time for an early morning ‘bird walk’ before we had to pack and leave this lovely place, so there will be more lemurs and a few other interesting things too.

Thank you to all those who have been following my Madagascar stories and feel free to leave comments and questions.