Manao ahoana (good afternoon)! In 36 hours, I will be in Madagascar, an island on the southeastern coast of Africa. I have been in a whirlwind of preparations; packing 90 pounds of luggage (mostly cliff bars) for my three months there, learning as much Malagasy (the language of Madagascar) as I can fit in my brain, and mentally preparing for living in a tent for three months.
What is so special about Madagascar?
Madagascar is a country with extraordinary biodiversity, prompting many scientists to refer to it as the eighth continent. Madagascar supports an extremely high level of endemic plant and animal life, meaning that most of the flora and fauna of this island, approximately 90%, is not found anywhere else in the world. The “flagship” endemic mammal species of Madagascar is the lemur. Lemurs are some of the most primitive species alive today and evolved on the island with very few predators or competitors. Once humans began arriving on Madagascar, lemur species were hunted for meat, and many lemur species, some as big as apes, began going extinct. Today, 90% of lemur species are on the endangered species list, with 20% listed as critically endangered. They are hunted for the bush meat trade and the exotic pet trade, and are quickly losing their habitats in the wild. It is estimated that Madagascar has lost 80-90% of their forests and rainforests to slash and burn agriculture and human development since humans arrived on the island. This has put all of Madagascar’s biodiversity in danger, not just lemurs. The people of Madagascar can hardly be blamed, as they are doing anything they can to survive and provide for their families. The average citizen of Madagascar earns less than $1 US per day, with over 70% of the population living beneath the world poverty line.
Why am I going?
I am traveling to Madagascar as a volunteer field research assistant for a lemur population monitoring project. I will be working in Kianjavato, in a forest fragment containing an array of critically endangered species. The Omaha Zoo and Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) have paired up in their efforts to protect this forest fragment and the species within. Cohorts of volunteers come from around the world every three months to monitor the Black and White Ruffed Lemurs and Greater Bamboo Lemurs that reside in the forest. These two species are critically endangered, making it crucial to monitor their populations to ensure these species continue to survive. The data collected from following family groups throughout the day is also used for research aimed at discovering how habitat fragmentation effects lemur populations and how conservationists can most effectively support these species. Kianjavato is also home to eight nurseries, tended to by locals and volunteers, which have resulted in 1 million trees planted in the last five years. Reforestation efforts are a necessity for connecting forest fragments, allowing population movement and increased genetic diversity. Although following lemur populations and reforesting barren landscapes is critical, engaging and educating the people of Madagascar is perhaps the most important aspect of the conservation efforts in Kianjavato. The Omaha Zoo and MBP have developed a Conservation Credit Rewards program, allowing locals to earn points by helping with reforestation events. These points can be collected and used to purchase sustainable, green items such as rocket stoves, solar kits, sewing machines, bicycles, and other necessities. Helping communities become more sustainable, while instilling the value of conservation is incredibly important for the long-term success of any conservation efforts in poverty stricken countries. It is especially important for communities across the country to learn about the importance of biodiversity, because as ecotourism grows in popularity, the economy in Madagascar will see the benefits. It is in the best interest for both types of primates, humans and lemurs, on Madagascar that the remaining populations of lemurs do not disappear.
If you would like to support the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership and the work that we are doing in Kianjavato, click here to donate and choose Madagascar Biodiversity Project in the designation drop down. Misaotra (thank you)!