Sainte Luce Private Reserve
Sainte Luce Reserve offers the ultimate ecological experience. Littoral forest on sandy soil – one of the most threatened vegetation types in Madagascar – can still be found in the South-East region of Madagascar. Some 30km northeast of Fort Dauphin lies 4,3 square kilometres of precious littoral forest – humid coastal forest, swamp and grassland that thrive directly behind the seashore. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s a highly important area for some of southeastern Madagascar’s rarest endemic flora and fauna.
Madagascar’s evergreen littoral forests grew up on old sand dunes and once stretched in an unbroken band two or more miles thick along the whole of the island’s 1600-km long east coast. Today, most of that vegetation type is gone: there’s no fragment now which is bigger than 2000 hectares. Still, researchers estimate the remaining fragments of evergreen littoral forest contain 13 percent of the island’s plant species on less than 1 percent of its land.
Sainte Luce Reserve forms part of the last remaining intact coastal rainforests. This compact reserve spans only one kilometre in length and 300 metres wide. It is a proud member of the Lemur Conservation Network, an organisation which works to save Madagascar's lemurs from extinction. International volunteers flock here from all over the world to assist with lemur research, tree planting, seed collecting, sea turtle monitoring, and community outreach. Managed on a shoestring by a local NGO coordinated by an Australian resident, the conservation work here benefits the district’s wildlife as well as the local fishers and farmers who live in the three villages of Ambandrika, Ampanasatomboky and Manafiafy, together known as Sainte Luce.
Located on an island-like peninsula, the reserve is bound by the Indian Ocean and white sand beaches to the east and winding freshwater rivers to the west, with lush coastal forests to the north and south. Meandering creeks ribbon their way from north to south, roughly parallel to the coast, as far south as the Baie de Lokaro, creating what is in effect a long, slug-shaped, inshore island of rare habitat. The Lokaro area of Sainte Luce is a scenic mix of unspoilt littoral forests, flowing streams, rolling green hills, winding waterways, natural pools and palm-fringed lakes.
The reserve protects the habitat for five species of lemurs, abundant birds, reptiles, and rare ebony forest. Explore the array of habitats within the reserve – from mangroves and wetlands to littoral forests and open grasslands – and discover the incredible plants and animals that share their home.
The flora in and around the forest is dominated by buttress-rooted pandanus palms, and includes the very rare Sainte Luce palm (Dypsis saintelucei) of which only around 100 mature individuals survive. These palms are critical to the survival of the jewel-like day gecko Phelsuma antanosy, which normally glues its two eggs to them.
The Sainte Luce Private Reserve is a good site for seeing the Red-collared Brown Lemur (Eulemur collaris) in the Pandanus-dominated forest right along the ocean. The reserve is also home to the Sainte Luce Mouse Lemur (Microcebus saintelucei). However, due to the fact that the Sainte Luce Reserve forest is separated from the other Sainte Luce forests by rivers, there is a current belief that the mouse lemur here is an entirely new, as yet unclassified, species.
Sightings of birds – Purple heron, Humblot’s heron, Meller’s duck, Madagascar crested ibis, France’s sparrowhawk, Madagascar nightjar, African palm swift, Madagascar malachite kingfisher, Pygmy kingfisher, Madagascar bulbul, Madagascar magpie-robin, Hook-billed vanga, Common jery, Souimanga sunbird, Madagascar white-eye are possible as well.
Visitors can explore Sainte Luce during day and night walks or with long pirogue rides through the wetlands' channels. The white-faced whistling ducks (Dendrocygna viduata) are one of the commonest birds in the wetlands around the west of the reserve, you can spot them resting on the river-bank.
Sailing through the Sainte Luce mangroves near the camp is like gliding across a mirror. But mangroves aren't just picturesque. They perform many amazing functions, such as providing habitat for thousands of species of fish and other marine life, protecting coastlines from erosion and storing billions of tonnes of carbon beneath their roots!
At Sainte Luce Reserve volunteers collect mangrove seeds and plant them along the river shoreline. A very important part of the conservation work. The volunteers and staff have planted 7000 mangroves around the river in the last year.
Sainte Luce Reserve offers highly rewarding nocturnal walks. It is not uncommon to see well into double figures of lemurs on a typical night. Sometimes you don't even need to leave the campsite to see them! The Fat Tailed Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus medius) can be easily spotted in the forest. The Southern Woolly Lemur (Avahi meridionalis) is one of two endangered lemur species found in Sainte-Luce, but it's at risk from increasingly degraded habitats. Some good news today: Flying fox populations in Sainte Luce are booming! Over 700 individuals are currently being reported by local monitors. The Malagasy civet, or Fanaloka (Fossa fossana) more frequently is seen around the forest. These cryptic predators are normally very wary of humans but because of the exclusion of hunters and particularly a ban on dogs in the reserve has had a positive effect perhaps on numbers and certainly on habituation to humans.
To get to the Sainte Luce reserve is roughly a 3-4 hour trip from Fort Dauphin via car and then pirogue (canoe). The journey just to get to the reserve is pretty much a small adventure in itself and you will see some local villages and lots of interesting scenery. You can even come kayacking from Fort Dauphin in three days. When you finally paddle up to the dock at the reserve you'll have a real appreciation for how isolated the site is.
Its remote location provides a tranquil environment that is perfect for traveller’s holidays in Madagascar. The nearest neighbours are located a canoe ride away in the village of Manafiafy or 18km down the beach in Itapera. The Camp lies between the windy reserve and the pristine stretch of littoral forest that is home to seemingly endless biodiversity.
The local guides, guardians and cook are what really sets Sainte-Luce Reserve apart from the competition. Each and every one of them is so friendly, welcoming and nothing is too much trouble. What is even more incredible is that many of them only arrived at the reserve a year or so ago and already they are very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna and can spot tiny chameleons on the forest floor from some distance away.
Watch more photos about Sainte Luce Private Reserve here.