Madagascar Fauna Group
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Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is home to a unique plethora of animal and plant species but also suffers from extensive environmental degradation. The Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) was formed to link zoos and botanical gardens to conservation action in-country. Their international headquarters is at the Saint Louis Zoo, USA, while their in-country base is in Toamasina, Madagascar. They work primarily in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar at 2 locations, Betampona Natural Reserve and the Parc Ivoloina.
Created in 1927, Betampona Natural Reserve, located 40 km north-west of Toamasina, was Madagascar’s first protected reserve. Once contiguous with the Zahamena forest corridor, Betampona’s 2,228 hectares of lowland rainforest are now an isolated patch surrounded by agriculture and degraded land.
The MFG has been Madagascar National Parks’ (MNP) research partner for over 15 years; all its research is based on conservation priorities set by MNP, and outcomes are provided to them through annual reports. MFG’s research station is staffed with six MFG Conservation Agents, project support staff and visiting researchers whose continual presence serves to protect the forest’s biodiversity.
Madagascar is known for its high levels of biodiversity and species endemism. It is part of the Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot (defined by Conservation International). Betampona Natural Reserve is one of the few remaining intact areas of lowland forest in Madagascar, characterized by a high diversity of low canopy and small girth trees, of which there are at least 244 species.
- 89 species of birds
- 68 reptiles
- 76 amphibians
- 11 species of lemur
Betampona is surrounded by nine villages, and in all of them the human population is growing rapidly. An initial socioeconomic survey found that most families have no more than a 500 square metre plot of land to cultivate rice and crops, 54% admitted to practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, 67% hunt their own bushmeat, and 97% gather wood from the wild. Food animals that are commonly found in the villages include chickens, ducks and pigs; however, problems with disease-related mortality result in limited production.
The MFG has an established child education program (Saturday School) that helps rural children pass the national exam to enter secondary school while introducing them to locally relevant conservation messages.
The MFG’s capacity building program targets villagers, natural resource practitioners, politicians and university students in such subjects as eco-agriculture, environmental law, environmental education, ecotourism, research methods, and conservation biology.
Current threats include logging, poaching, forest fires, increasing population demands, political instability, habitat fragmentation and invasive species (especially strawberry guava). The lemurs themselves are threatened by fragmentation leading to inbreeding and other problems.
- The MFG began surveying Betampona’s lemur populations in 1990, which led to the 1997–2001 re-introduction of captive-born Black-and-white Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia variegata) into the Reserve.
- To date, the program has worked with nearly 400 villagers to plant 42,000 trees covering 126 hectares around the Reserve.
- Habitat conservation to protect areas from further fragmentation.
- Reforestation of Betampona’s 100-meter Zone of Protection with native trees: This program, now entering its fifth year, began by partnering with the local communities, learning their needs and establishing tree nurseries at 4 villages.
- Eradication of invasive exotic plants, including guava, one of the world’s worst invasives, in Betampona. The MFG has documented the extent to which invasives have penetrated the Reserve and their impact on the regeneration of native species. Unless the invasives are controlled/eradicated, the structure and ecological integrity of Betampona’s primary forest will be forever altered.
- Community Development and Livelihoods Project around the Reserve: The MFG has adopted the slogan “Protect Betampona, Develop Communities”. To this end, the MFG will expand its Parc Ivoloina-based ecoagriculture program to communities around the Reserve. Identifying the appropriate vaccinations for chickens is a key action to increasing production. Improved production may reduce bushmeat hunting and serve as a source for generating income.
- Research into 4 of the 11 lemur species found in the Reserve, to provide information to develop a strategy to maintain the viability of the Reserve’s populations of these 4 species.
The Living Rainforest Connection
Numerous Living Rainforest staff have seen first-hand the destructive nature of the problems in Madagascar. As a result, the charity is currently a member of the MFG and fully believes it is a worthwhile cause. The Living Rainforest is also an ex situ conservation site (like the zoos) wanting to support in situ conservation work in Madagascar.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
The problems in Madagascar are numerous, fragmented forests, people struggling to survive under the poverty line, and political instability amongst others. With your support, organisations like the MFG are helping to turn things round, one obstacle at a time.
1) You can please help to protect threatened ecosystems like rainforests indirectly in the UK through your day-to-day ‘sustainable living’ activities – e.g. recycling, cycling or walking more, and thinking before you buy something if there is a more sustainable alternative.
2) Please help by donating to the MFG through The Living Rainforest, contact us to donate.
Find out more: http://www.savethelemur.org/
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