By Rachel Nonoo
Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership & the Kianjavato Lemur Project
Over 90% of Madagascar’s original rainforests have been destroyed, either through logging, mining or slash-and-burn agriculture. This has resulted in the habitats and homes for many rare, endemic and, now, endangered animals, especially lemurs, to be severely limited. This exotic island is full of magical critters, from chameleons smaller than your fingernail and giant millipedes, to about 800 frog species and a myriad of colourful birds. These animals need the help of the local people to survive, yet being one of the poorest countries in the world, educating this island nation becomes the priority…
The Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership
The Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership is a non-governmental organisation that has recognised not just the problems the Red Island faces, but the cause and solutions. The MBP has been involved in conservation projects throughout Madagascar for over 14 years and, through scientific research aimed at aiding the protection of endangered animals, has discovered 21 new lemur species. It’s not just through science that the MBP works however; recognising that the future of Madagascar’s incredible diversity lies within the hands of the Malagasy people, they have also led numerous community and education projects. This aims to instill a sense of pride in their national treasures, educating them in how to conserve them and inspiring them to think about the long term effects of their actions.
Kianjavato Ahmanson Field Station (KAFS), created from four shipping containers, has served them as a dorm, kitchen, research lab, office space and headquarters. Centrally located, it serves as a base for all of their research and outreach projects in Kianjavato, as well as projects by partners, volunteers and students. This is the base from which our clients will have the opportunity to track 3 species of critically endangered lemurs, learn about how to help them and delve into the research projects with the local communities. KAFS is not just a base from which to work from, but has seen many changes over the years – now featuring numerous plant nurseries and a working well.
Of course, when we think about the wildlife of Madagascar the first thing that springs to mind for most people is the lemurs. Totally endemic, these wonderful creatures range from the tiny 25 gram pygmy mouse lemur to the huge Indri, and all displaying different behaviours, like singing or even dancing across the sand. The Greater Bamboo Lemur is one of the world’s most endangered animals, with just 300 known to be left in the wild. Having once thrived, its territorial range is now limited due to forest fragmentation and the largest populations now live in the forests surrounding Kianjavato where they can enjoy their, highly specialised, diet that consists mainly of Greater Bamboo. For the Greater Bamboo Lemur to have a chance at survival, swift action must be taken and the MBP is contributing in more than one way to this. As Madagascar is an economically impoverished country, with 70% of people surviving on less that $1US per day, the people often turn to the forests to meet their basic needs. The MBP believes that by educating these people, you will encourage them to make smart choices, helping to preserve the habitat and ensure the survival of the Greater Bamboo Lemur, as well as improving the quality of life of the Kianjavato community. Currently only 20% of the countries national budget goes towards education, and 95% of that goes towards salaries. It is not just through education that the MBP are making a difference. In 2007 to provide immediate protection, they provided employment of local guides – this not only establishes a valuable connection to the community, it means they gain employees that are already familiar with the land, a win-win situation. This is being monitored and the data compiled will provide information on population genetics, group dynamics and seasonal movement to compare with other Greater Bamboo Lemurs found in other areas of Madagascar.
With their rodent-like teeth, large eyes and specialised long thin finger, the Aye-Ayes were not initially thought to be part of the lemur family. Despite their eerie looks, they are indeed primates and spend their lives avoiding coming down to the ground, clinging onto branches with their sharp claws and opposable thumbs. These lemurs are not just endangered due to a loss of habitat, but were, and still are by some, thought to be an omen of bad luck. For this reason, they have been killed on sight – a form of hunting, which combined with habitat destruction, has left them critically endangered. In 2008 GPS collars were used on the odd looking Aye-Aye’s in Mantadia National Park and Torotorofotsy Site on a preliminary study of their range. These findings are being expanded upon with a long term study into their social structure, habitat use, diet, territory size (the home range of a female was found to be 746 hectares over 4 months) and population densities in four areas; Torotorofotsy Ramsar site, Mantadia National Park, Analamazaotra Special Reserve and Kianjavato Classified Forest.
The critically endangered Black & White Ruffed lemur is threatened by both habitat loss and specialised diet. Feeding on 90% fruit they serve as a vital seed dispenser throughout the forest. As part of the ‘Education Promoting Reforestation Program’, the seeds (which are not harmed by the lemur’s digestion) are collected by students and volunteers, separated from their genetic material to be germinated and transplanted. In the 1970’s poaching and deforestation led to the regional extinction of Black and White ruffed and Diademed sifaka lemurs in the Analamazoatra. The MBP, over 30 years later, confirmed that this area was suitable as a habitat for these friendly critters and implemented the most successful known wild animal reintroduction in Madagascar. As well as the above, the MBP is working with the Malagasy communities who share their homes with the Northern Sportive Lemur and Perrier’s sifaka to monitor these endangered animals and help to ensure their survival.
What we do…
We are doing our best to work with and support the MBP by sending willing clients to the Kianjavato Lemur Project at some point during their safari. Not only will you have the chance to spend time searching for the rare nocturnal aye-aye, Greater Bamboo Lemur and black and white ruffed lemurs but the opportunity to visit local schools and talk to the local communities. We are the only company to do this and for the privilege, we donate 100 Euros to the MBP each time one of our clients makes a visit. By travelling with us, you are contributing directly to their research and to supporting the habitats of these critically endangered, endemic lemurs.