Primate keeper Jane Marshall is currently in Madagascar as part of a Zoofriends & Conservation fellowship to assist the project ‘Community based conservation of Madagascar’s spiny forests’. These forests are a vital habitat for the endangered Ring-tailed Lemur but unfortunately the forests are quickly disappearing due to deforestation.
Madagascar is an amazing place and we have already learnt so much about this country and its amazing flora and fauna. The site is in Lavavolo, where our partnership with the Omaha Zoo and the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership carry out their Ring-tailed Lemur and Radiated Tortoise monitoring programs. There is also a nursery where they are currently focusing on growing native plants for reforestation. These plants are vital as they provide food and habitats for the Ring-tailed Lemurs.
The site is still at a very small scale at this stage and due to its remote location it is generally only staffed by one or two Malagasy University students with the assistance of local guides.
During our stay we were taken to three different Ring-tailed Lemur sites where there is a PhD student monitoring the behaviour, home range, and population size of eight different groups of Ring-tailed Lemurs.
It was definitely amazing to see so many wild troops of Ring-tailed Lemurs, and it is remarkable just how similar their behaviours are to our boys at Taronga, especially when we saw five Lemurs sitting huddled together in a cave in a Lemur ball like ours do. It has been one of the highlights of the trip so far!
We were also taken out with the Tortoise team who are currently tracking nine Radiated Tortoises in the Lavavolo area. It was here that we witnessed the community involvement aspect of the project as it is completely managed by a local guide that had been trained by the partnership.
Another aspect of our partnership was the introduction of rocket stoves into the local communities.
The stoves are already being used in the kitchen that is preparing the food for the project staff, the students, and local guides only 300m away from the township. So in the future we hope they will continue to be accepted by the locals as an efficient method of cooking.
There are plans in place to develop the site further, including the plans for more permanent structures for storage, sanitation and eventually a school. The children still have to travel 10km to the neighbouring town of Intampolo in very hot and sandy conditions – and we can now appreciate just how difficult this journey is to make.
We visited Intampolo and it has clearly benefited from the help of the partnership through the aid of the Conservation Fusion. There is still no sanitation or power there but there is a basic medical centre and a school, which makes it more developed than Lavavolo.
The fellowship is definitely challenging due to its remote location and lack of basic infrastructure. There were also many cultural barriers that we have had to overcome (e.g. sleeping in the middle of the day!) but overall I was happy with outcome as we witness firsthand the work that is being carried out at ground level.
We have taken lots of photos to share and have many stories to tell when we return in June.