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Journey to Madagascar 2009 

October 21, 2009

To the Dancing Lemurs at Berenty Reserve

Preparing rice paddies for planting – the mob of muddy zebu way.

Planting rice

Working in the rice paddy

Harvested rice on the way to threshing


On Tuesday we boarded our minivan and headed north to the Berenty Reserve, a private facility about 70 km north of Ft. Dauphin. It is a protected forest zone full of friendly lemurs and other creatures. The lemurs in particular have so accustomed to being around people so it is possible to see them close-up.

The trip was spectacular in scenic terms. You might want to check out the pictures in Photo Album 6: “Ft. Dauphin to Berenty.”

The scenery may have been stunning, but the road was dreadful. Even to call it a road is an exaggeration. The trip took nearly four hours, and most of the time was spent bouncing from side to side, up and down, in and out of ruts, and all at an average speed of perhaps 15 mph. But there was a compensation. Life in its infinite variety unfolded on each side of the road as we drove past. People were working in the rice paddies, washing themselves and their clothes in the rivers and streams, walking to market with all sorts of loads on their heads (the women mostly), making charcoal, selling charcoal, getting to know each other in all sorts of ways, an so forth. The trip was never boring even if it was bone rattling.

Temperate forest


We went from the coastal region at Ft. Dauphin with its 3 miles of good road that ended just after the airport turnoff, into a tropical zone dominated by planted fields, much of the land devoted to rice, then on to cross a small mountain range the gave onto a transitional forest and then to a spiny forest region, dry and hot and desert-like in is botanical variety. The local villages changed as the climate changed. Water went from plentiful to scarce. House construction went from bricks to sticks. The landscape went from lush to thorny and brittle. All this happened in distance from San Jose to San Francisco, more or less. If I had had the time, I would love to have walked. I probably would have reached Berenty in roughly the same time, come to think of it.

We were really lucky on the trip north. The day was beautifully sunny, the fields were full of activity from preparing the rice paddies, to planting rice, and finally to harvesting it. The trip was remarkable for its variety of images and scenes.

Of course, there was no sign of wealth anywhere. The people along the route are genuinely poor: no electricity, small huts for homes, and work done by hand with the simplest of tools. Food appeared to be in reasonably good supply and the people well fed, but life here is hard and we saw no one who was overweight. Slimming diets would find few takers here.

Zebu driver in training


We reached Berenty in time to check into our small bungalows and have lunch, which was pretty good considering everything. We were hungry of course and that made a difference too. The Berenty Reserve provides full accommodations including the bungalows, a restaurant, guides for nature walks, and transportation to and from Ft. Dauphin. We were told that it’s really a monopoly run by one family. To be frank, the facilities need investment. You even might call some of them a bit shabby, and he food won’t win any prizes. It appears that the family has a good deal going and, in the absence of competition, keeps it going without much improvement.

The rest of the day was spent looking for and at lemurs. I made a vow not to take any more pictures and ended the day having taken some 300 new shots. Hooray for digital photography.

We took a break after lunch while the day was very hot – in the 90’s – and set out for our first lemur walk around 4 pm. The critters were everywhere. They have been so protected from predators (our species included) in the reserve that they have lost their fear of people. They will scamper about, leap from limb to limb, and sit happily on a branch while nibbling on tamarind leaves, all the while peering back at the people who are peering at them and snapping pictures. The so-called “dancing” that the lemurs do is really a sideways scamper to get from tree to tree in areas where the trees far enough apart to make leaps risky or impossible.

We also took a “night” walk through the forest starting at 6:30 pm, before dinner, so we could see the nocturnal mouse lemur (the size of a mouse, hence the name). We also spied sleeping daytime lemurs, sleeping birds, a sleeping chameleon (it had turned whitish instead of the usual green so it was harder to see at night), and a couple of very active owls doing their thing.

I’ll post a group of lemur pictures tomorrow. I think you will enjoy them.

Filed under: Uncategorized — greg @ 9:46 am

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The Chief Penguin


Greg Farrington

Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, is visiting the island of Madagascar. He is joined by his wife, and Academy researchers, who are surveying and assessing this biodiversity hotspot.

Visit the Farringtons' personal blog, Madagascar Adventure, for in-depth details of this Academy expedition.

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