Trip to Berenty spiny forest near Fort Dauphin in southern Madagascar

27 June 2013 

The protected area of Berenty is home to a spiny forest mainly composed of plants belonging to the family of Didieraceae (Alluaudia) and offers home to several species of lemurs, birds and reptiles. Unfortunately, the region is under severe threat from deforestation, and huge plantations of Agave take the place of trees and Alluaudia Euphorbia, subtracting space and resources to endemic animals.

Blooming Agave Agave flowers
The journey in Madagascar continues from Lavanono to Berenty, on the track that often runs alongside big plantations of Agave.
Flowery agave Flowery agave
Blooming prickly pears and Agave as traffic island. . It look like a paradise for lovers of succulent plants.
Dry river
In search of water, sometimes digging wells in the bed of a dry river.
Alluaudia dumosa

Continuing the journey eastward along the southern coast of Madagascar, the number of Alluaudia dumosa increases. This is the only Alluaudia that has no leaves, but the foliage is replaced only by a dense network of succulent branches doing the photosynthesis.
Wild cat
Photo of a wild cat.
Agave plantation Agave
The spiny forest was unfortunately largely destroyed to give way to plantations of Agave, so trees belonging to the family of Euphorbiaceae and Didieraceae, along with birds, reptiles and mammals, have become highly vulnerable and in danger, since they now survive only in small protected areas.
Berenty lodge
The Berenty Lodge is quite touristic and well-equipped. It is located in the small protected area of Berenty and allows you to take a closer look ,with short walks, to the flora and fauna typical of this region in the south of Madagascar.
The ring-tailed lemurs regularly visit the restaurant of the lodge and sometimes the can even steal a few slices of bread from the table where the tourists are eating.

At Berenty Lodge, in the heart of the spiny forest of Madagascar, there is also a small botanical garden where most of the plants endemic to the region are grown.
Berenty Museum
There is also a small herd of radiated tortoise (in the picture a tortoise struggling with a cladode - commonly known as "blade" or prickly pear “ leaf” ), as well as a small but interesting museum on the history, on the culture and the ecosystem of Berenty.
On top of a tree in the forest a white lemur (Sifaka) appears
Nocturnal Lemur
Sportive lemur

Photo of a sportive lemur. There are also nocturnal lemurs (sportive lemur or weasel), which during the day took refuge in the crevices at the top of the logs
Due to the particularly wet soil throughout the rainy season, termites prefer to build their nests on tree branches rather than on the ground.
Berenty forest
Nocturnal birds

The forest of Berenty is home to several birds, some diurnal and others nocturnal (in the picture on the right, a nocturnal bird rests in a small hole in the ground).
Photo of the spiny forest. The trail winds through the tall trees of the forest Berenty in southern Madagascar..
Among the branches of some trees, I see several nocturnal birds peacefully resting.
Flying foxes
On a tree there are big bats (flying foxes).

Photos of Didieraceae. I notice some Alluaudia humbertii, a species that I had not seen much in the days before. The Alluaudia humbertii is characterized by a dense network of slender thorny branches, with leaves, which are very messy-haired bushes. As previously explained, Alluaudia belongs to the family of Didieraceae, plants endemic to Madagascar, considered to be the link between the xerophytic plants "normal" (= life xerophytic dry) and the real succulent plants ("cactus"), as they are equipped with thorns and use the CAM metabolism (I do invite non botanists to look up the meaning of CAM metabolism on google, because it gets complicated ... it would take pages to explain it). Yet, in most cases they do not have particularly spongy tissues (apart from the leaves, but only slightly), indeed, the wood is unfortunately of reasonable quality.
Alluaudia humbertii

I also note other Alluaudia dumosa, perhaps the only species really close to the cousins "cacti", which lacks leaves and with quite meaty young stems. The plant can be easily confused with some Euphorbia.

Branches of Alluaudia ascendens form a dense network.
Photo of Berenty. In the spiny forest there are large baobab trees..
Crocodile tree
And big trunks of " crocodile tree" so named by the locals for its characteristic bark..
Sportive lemur
Sportive lemur

Photo of nocturnal lemurs. Incredibly, some nocturnal lemurs rest among the thorny branches of Alluaudia
Alluaudia procera Alluaudia ascendens
Photo of Didieraceae. The genus Alluaudia does not include many species, but it is not always easy to recognize the exact one if you do not analyze the plant closely. On the left, a Alluaudia procera, characterized by oval leaves arranged in rows quite ordered. In the photo on the right, a Alluaudia ascendens, characterized by heart- shaped leaves.
A picture (macro) that shows the heart-shaped leaves of Alluaudia ascendens.
Cissus quadrangularis Spiny forest
Photo of Cissus quadrangularis, a weed that can cover and smother whole trees. In the photo on the right, a Alluaudia almost completely covered by Cissus quadrangularis.
Pyxis arachnoides
I watch a spider tortoise (Pyxis arachnoides) resting half- buried. This land turtle, already seen in the previous days in Cap Saint Marie in southern Madagascar, as an adult reaches the maximum size of 15cm in length.
gecko's eye

Among the crevices of the bark of a baobab tree, I see a large gecko very well camouflaged with the surrounding environment.
A small green butterfly.
weasel lemur Nocturnal lemurs
Nocturnal lemur photos. Night falls on the spiny forest of Berenty and many nocturnal lemurs (sportive lemur or weasel) appear, often among the thorny branches of Didieraceae.
pygmy microcebo
Among the leaves of a succulent Euphorbia, I also see a Microcebus myoxinus, a small nocturnal lemur (pygmy microcebus) also known as " Peter’s Microcebus," the smallest lemur (and primate) in the world.

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English translation by Lorena Anzani.