Cap Sainte Marie special reserve

Map Cap Sainte-Marie Cap Sainte Marie Special Reserve (also known by its local name Cape Vohimena) lies at the most southern point of Madagascar and comprises a total surface of 17’5 km². This tiny Reserve was created in 1962 in order to protect its fragile ecosystem and its unique fauna and flora, specially the rare turtle populations. Located on the southern boundary of the Mahafaly Karimbola plateau, it is a pretty arid zone with no watercourses and very little rain covered by dry spiny forest. The impressive huge moving dunes and the coast landscapes create a bizarre, beautiful and unique ecosystem. The warm temperature during the whole year makes possible to visit the reserve at any time.
Probably the highlight of Cap Sainte Marie are the turtles, both terrestrial and marines. The two endemic species of terrestrial turtles are specially significant: the radiated and the spider turtle are already very rare and have along this coast its last wild habitat. The Reserve contains in fact the largest populations of these two threatened turtles, and one of the highest densities of turtles in the world. radiated tortoise
   Radiated tortoise in captivity  © Horace Smith

The humpback whales, which pass near the coast with their calves during its migration between August and November, are the other main attraction of Cap Sainte Marie.

There are also some mammals living in this region: a couple of nocturnal lemurs, like the grey mouse lemur or the reddish-grey mouse lemur, and some tenrecs and bats manage to survive in this arid ecosystem. Birds are not very common, but there are a pair of endemic species here, such as the Verreaux’s Coua Coua verreauxi and the littoral rock-trush.
Reptiles are more abundant. Apart from the turtles, visitors can observe the local endemic three-eyed-lizard, some boas, geckos and chameleons.
The Reserve has also a good number of spider and insects. 4 different termite species have been identified so far.

On the long white beaches it is still possible to find the bones and eggs of the extinct elephant bird, a legendary bird which was 3 meters tall. The eggs of this creature were eight times bigger than a hen’s egg. This gigantic bird was hunted until it disappeared around 800 years ago.

The vegetation consists mainly of dwarf plants which form a unique spiny bush (pay attention to their thorns while walking). Some of this tiny plants only occur around Cap Sainte Marie. Even baobabs are tiny in this area! A significant species is the Madagascar periwinkle. This beautiful plant with pink flowers is used as a natural medicine against leukemia.

It can be really hot down here (over 40°), so a hat, plenty of water and sun cream are compulsory!

humpback whale in Madagascar
    The spectacualar jumps of the humpback whales        can be seen along all the coast of Cap Sainte Marie
 © Piero Sierra
So far there are two easy trails within the Reserve. You can make both of them in one day without problems.

The Cape circuit is a short walk trough the dwarf spiny forest where visitors can spot reptiles and birds amongst this extraordinary scenery.

The Cave circuit allows you to discover the eggs of the elephant bird and to observe the big population of turtles. Besides, you will pass trough a sacred cave and some moving dunes.

If you have your own vehicle, the journey takes almost two days from Tulear and one from Fort Dauphin. The road is not bad until Beloha (from Tulear) or until Tsiombe (from Fort Dauphin or from Tana). During the last few km the road is just a narrow path full of sand, so it can take longer than expected to reach the Reserve, even with a 4x4.
There are also taxi-brousse connections several times a week until Tsihombe.

It is possible to camp inside the Reserve. Fee is 10,000 Ar per tent and night.
There are some basic accommodations and restaurants in Lavanono (20 km from the Reserve)

There is a local ANGAP Office at Tsihombe, where you can arrange your visit. A couple of guides speak English.

Special Reserve Cap Sainte Marie:
BP 12 – 621 Tsihombe
Tél.: + (261 32) 40 934 03
Email: angapfd@yahoo.fr