SAVA Conservation

Environmental Education

Miaro atiala, mamboly fiainana

Protect the forest, and life will grow

The Duke Lemur Center’s newest conservation initiative in northeastern Madagascar features community-based conservation alongside research and student volunteer programs amidst the backdrop of Marojejy massif. Starting in 2012, the Duke Lemur Center (DLC) began an independent conservation initiative, in the SAVA (Sambava-Andapa-Vohemar-Antalaha) region of northeastern Madagascar. This region contains over 820 square kilometers of mountainous primary rainforest in protected areas which include Marojejy National Park, part of the Rainforests of the Atsinanana World Heritage Site (Patel and Welch, 2013).

The mission of SAVA Conservation is to encourage biodiversity conservation in the SAVA region by supporting the livelihoods of rural people in forest bordering communities and through collaborations with local environmental organizations and governmental institutions to promote environmental education, reforestation, freshwater fish farms, family planning, fuel-efficient cook stoves, and conservation oriented lemur research projects.

DLC is also a major resource for undergraduate and graduate student education. Duke ENGAGE sends undergraduate volunteers to work on SAVA Conservation projects, and graduate students have completed their work in SAVA researching biodiversity.

donatebannerMadagascar is the fourth largest island in the world (slightly larger than the nation of France) and features some of Earth’s most amazing and diverse biological life. Isolated for nearly 150 million years, the plants and animals of Madagascar spent millions of years evolving their own unique characteristics, not to be found elsewhere on the planet. Remarkably, the more than 100 species of lemurs are naturally found nowhere else on earth. Such extreme endemism is characteristic of all forms of life on this oceanic island with 98% of the mammals, reptiles, and amphibians and over 90% of the (more than 12,000) plant species being found nowhere else. The sheer size of Madagascar (nearly 1000 miles long and 350 miles wide) coupled with the diversity of Madagascar’s regional climates and habitats – desert, lowland and high altitude rain forest, dry deciduous forest, mountains and valleys, grasslands, spiny forest and knife-edged limestone formations – created such a vast array of wildlife and plant life that Madagascar is often referred to as the “Eighth Continent.”


The bulk of Madagascar’s incredible biological diversity unfortunately hangs near the edge of extinction. Since the recent arrival of humans over 3500 years ago (Dewar et al. 2013), tremendous deforestation and animal extinctions have occurred. Less than 16% of Madagascar is now covered in forest, and within last 60 years, forest cover has decreased by nearly 40% (Harper et al., 2007). At least 17 species of giant lemurs (ranging in size from 10kg to 160kg) and many other megafauna, such as the 10 foot tall elephant bird, recently went extinct. Currently, lemurs are considered the most threatened mammal group on earth (Schwitzer et al., 2014).

Madagascar is one of the ten poorest nations in the world with more than three-fourths of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (UNDP 2013). People survive by farming their own food, mainly rice, and utilize traditional forms of slash-and-burn agriculture, a cheap but destructive farming method resulting in erosion and forest fires, and loss of arable or farmable land (only 6% of total land area). The need for land has grown exponentially with Madagascar’s population (nearly 24 million and expected to double by 2050), while the unique biodiversity of Madagascar continues to suffer. Conservation, as the Duke Lemur Center practices, must meet the needs of local communities in addition to protecting the amazing fauna and flora of Madagascar.

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