Introducing Réserve Privée de Berenty
This place is the Madagascan version of the grand old East African safari-lodge experience – minus the swimming pool and swanky bungalows. You do get to watch tame lemurs frolic in the garden or walk in peace through quiet forest trials without the constant companionship of a guide.
Berenty was established in 1936 by sisal planter Henri de Heaulme in order to preserve gallery forest. The reserve, together with its small companion reserve of Bealoka, 7km to the north, contains nearly one-third of the remaining tamarind (or kily) gallery forest in Madagascar, nestled between the arms of a former oxbow lake on the Mandrare River.
The reserve is now managed by de Heaulme’s son Jean de Heaulme. In the decades since its founding, the Berenty’s relative ease of access has attracted numerous researchers, and in 1985 the WWF awarded Jean de Heaulme the Getty prize for nature conservation.
Berenty was first opened to tourists in the early 1980s and has since become one of Madagascar’s most visited reserves. It’s a very colonial, slightly surreal place at first sight, with the endless, spiky rows of the de Heaulme sisal plantation stretching away on all sides, and white picket fences neatly dividing the bright-red roads that surround the bungalows. It’s very popular with pre-booked package tours.
Berenty isn’t all sugary sweet; it’s got a bit of controversy surrounding it. Some of the reserve’s early practices – feeding bananas to lemurs, sweeping leaf debris off forest tracks – led to environmental problems, and some visitors complain that the whole experience is contrived, ecologically unsound and overpriced. Adventurous and mobile visitors with enough time to visit Madagascar’s other wilder parks (nearby Andohahela, for example) will likely find Berenty a disappointment.
Other travellers love it. For visitors with little time or limited mobility, Berenty offers a chance to experience the magic of the forest, observe lemurs up-close (Berenty’s photo opportunities are second to none), and get an insight into the Antandroy culture of the region with a visit to the excellent anthropological museum on site.
Some of Berenty’s early practices have been stopped, and teams have begun to remove non-endemic plant invaders such as sisal, raketa and the rubber vine from the forest.