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Madagascar Conservation Programs: 2020 Impact Report

Madagascar closed its borders in March 2020 in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Duke Lemur Center’s Madagascar conservation team quickly adapted its plans for managing projects on the island for the foreseeable future. Our two DLC-SAVA Project Coordinators were separated as Dr. James Herrera was unable to return to Madagascar as planned, but Lanto Andrianandrasana was on the island. Through a combination of virtual and on-the-ground efforts, James and Lanto worked together to organize, coordinate, and push projects forward. Overseen by Charlie Welch, Conservation Coordinator, the success of the DLC’s conservation work in the SAVA region of northeastern Madagascar during 2020 is a tribute to the resilience of our team. We are thankful for the ongoing support and involvement of our Madagascar partners, the communities and people we serve, and to our conservation program donors.

During 2020, the impact of COVID-19 in Madagascar and the northeastern SAVA region was smaller than we had originally feared. However, it has been difficult to confirm real impact or numbers of cases with so little testing carried out country-wide. To continue to serve our communities in this challenging time, we proceeded cautiously with project activities. After experiencing an initial slowdown of activities in early 2020, we were back to full-speed by the end of the year, while continuing numerous precautions such as requiring and providing masks, and ensuring safe distancing at all project activities.

Without further ado, please see below what the Duke Lemur Center’s Madagascar conservation team has been able to achieve in 2020—the year of the COVID-19 pandemic—followed by other DLC conservation news.

Community-based conservation in the northeastern (SAVA) region

We were awarded a grant from General Mills to support specific project activities. The grant will fund DLC-SAVA regenerative agriculture and professional development in collaboration with CURSA, a university in the region. We are excited about this unique opportunity to partner with General Mills to improve livelihoods and protect forests in the SAVA region.

We partnered with the local organization Association Manome Tanana to respond to COVID-19 in the SAVA region, and increase awareness and preparedness. Much needed PPE like masks and hand-sanitizing stations, as well as infographics, were delivered to three SAVA clinics, especially near the protected areas.

In 2020, we sponsored two separate lemur conservation missions consisting of CURSA and University of Antsiranana students and professors who worked for weeks in the forests of the COMATSA protected area. The team recorded numerous lemur observations, including the rare silky sifaka. In addition, they found many lemur traps (which they disarmed), fires in the forest, and other threats. They conducted focus groups and interviews with local stakeholders to understand how and why people use natural resources. Looking ahead to 2021, the team will continue to monitor lemur populations at this site and many others where hunting and deforestation are on the rise. They will disarm traps and co-create conservation action plans with local stakeholders. Read more about the lemur conservation program in our 2020 DLC-SAVA newsletter, our blog, and see virtual presentations on the DLC Facebook page and our educational partners Exploring by the Seat of your Pants.

We continued our collaboration with Madagascar National Parks (MNP) in the realm of Park protection and delineating boundaries around Marojejy National Park.

We hired an Environmental Education Specialist, Evrard Benasoavina. Evrard is a research associate and ecotourism expert, with a passion for education. He has started with DLC-SAVA by leading student visits to his New Generation Garden. The visits are a pilot program to determine best methods for the visits, with hopes of later developing a broader garden visit program in the future.

Teacher training in environmental education was conducted by Lanto and Evrard in Sambava for the village of Amboangibe (near Andapa). More than 265 teachers and 30 trainers were engaged in the week-long instruction on how to integrate environmental education into the classroom. The workshop focused on a manual for teaching environmental education co-created by Madagascar educators and conservationists. All possible COVID-19 precautionary measures were taken, including hiring two nurses to monitor participant health and adherence to all preventative measures throughout the training. Workshops for the Sambava and Andapa school districts are now complete, with more than 2,600 teachers trained.

As part of our longstanding support for fish farming to provide a sustainable and nutritious food source, we worked in 2020 with a parent-teacher association at the school in Belaoko-Marovato village. Their fish farm has been progressing well and provided a successful harvest of fish, thanks to recent improvements to the ponds. Each participating member of the PTA received a portion of the harvest, with some sold to raise money for school activities. Ten PTA members created their own fish ponds, which they stocked with fish they received from the demonstration pond. The school at Belaoko-Marovato is the focus of several DLC-SAVA Conservation activities such as reforestation, and relies on the engagement of the school PTA members.

We are continuing to build on our strong relationship with CURSA, the university of the SAVA region. CURSA staff and faculty have participated in or led DLC-SAVA sponsored work in reforestation, regenerative agriculture, fuel efficient stove distribution/evaluation, agroforestry, and forest ecology workshops. Our collaboration benefits students by providing real life opportunities while also allowing DLC-SAVA to expand our conservation activities.

We continue to support two graduate-level students at the University of Antananarivo, Sylvanah Rabesahala and Theudy Solofoniaina. Sylvanah and Theudy, selected graduates of CURSA, are nearing the end of their graduate program, which has been delayed by school closings related to COVID-19.

Agroecology evaluations by our sponsored CURSA Agroecology Internship Program in the villages of Belaoka, Andasibe-Kobahina, and Ampahana showed almost half of the participants in the garden workshops have now planted their own vegetable gardens. Learn more about our agroecology programs in our blogs “Agroecology in Madagascar: DLC-SAVA Conservation interventions for sustainable development” and “DLC-SAVA Conservation Forging New Collaborations with CURSA: Agroecology workshops.”

Women-centered agroecology training program began: At the villages of Ampahana (near Antalaha) and Manantenina (near Marojejy), more than 70 local women participated in training with an all female staff. The aim is to increase the participation of women in agricultural training opportunities. They also engaged in hands-on training in the hygienic preparation of nutritious foods including diverse vegetables, beans, and fruits. Click here to learn more about how we’re empowering women in sustainable agriculture, SAVA-style.

The National Reforestation Campaign 2021 has begun, with participants planting trees across Madagascar. In the SAVA, 38,000 seedlings were planted at a new plantation area in northern SAVA near Vohemar. DLC-SAVA has contributed to the efforts of our partners at four other sites, with 50,000 trees planted already this year. We have co-created management plans with the local partners to maintain these efforts throughout the year, and for decades to come.

Fuel-efficient stove distributions and evaluations were carried out. In collaboration with the Swiss NGO, ADES, we distributed more than 250 stoves to households in three villages. CURSA students, led by professor Marie Rolande, conducted phone interviews with the households that bought stoves. Stove use is better than expected; 95% of participants said they liked the ADES stoves because they used less charcoal, and they reported an average decrease of over 25kg of charcoal use per month, compared to traditional stoves. These results give us new insights as we prepare to continue these efforts in 2021.

The women’s reproductive health collaboration with MSI continues with 385 women served in 2020. Environmental education activities, carried out by Evrard with both the women and their accompanying children, have now been added to the interventions.

We continue to facilitate the NIH-sponsored research of Charlie Nunn and Duke Global Health in the SAVA. Their research is examining the links between land use and land use change in relation to disease transmission among animals and people.

The annual DLC-SAVA eNewsletter was published in December and we are excited to share the progress in conservation, despite the challenges of 2020.

James wrote an excellent blog, “On the State of Madagascar Conservation at the End of 2020, Looking Forward.”

Other DLC conservation news

We initiated a collaboration with the Duke Carbon Offset Initiative (DCOI) office and the Nicholas School of the Environment. Through the graduate program at Duke, we have engaged four master’s students in the project, advised by Dr. John Poulsen of the Nicholas School. The project involves spatial analysis of deforestation trends in the selected areas in the SAVA region where we are collaborating on reforestation efforts, using satellite data and field surveys by our CURSA partners.

In a collaboration with the NCSU Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program, James and Charlie worked via Zoom with three groups of students, and their professor. Each group selected a separate project as proposed by DLC-SAVA. These included marketing and entrepreneurship with vanilla, juice bars and a locally made infant formula mix, and raising and marketing insects (specifically sakondry/lantern bugs) as a source of dietary protein. The students partnered with CURSA students to produce hopefully actionable reports at the end of the five week projects.

Malagasy veterinarian training at DLC: Malagasy veterinarian Dr. Elodi Rambeloson trained at DLC with vets Dr. Bobby Schopler and Dr. Laura Ellsaesser over a four month period in 2020, despite the pandemic. Elodi is a research veterinarian at Anjajavy, a combination resort/reserve in northwestern Madagascar, a site we visit with the Duke Madagascar tours. Elodi also supports DLC researchers Dr. Marina Blanco and Dr. Lydia Greene, who conduct projects in Anjajavy.

Ex-situ lemur care manual released digitally to assist lemur care in Madagascar zoos and wildlife parks: DLC conservation specialist Andrea Katz was scheduled to travel to Madagascar in April 2020 for the release of her painstakingly produced 75-page Lemur Care and Management Manual as a resource for Madagascar zoos. The manual, produced in French, is intended to improve captive lemur husbandry and management at licensed facilities in Madagascar. It covers nutrition, housing, veterinary care, record-keeping, wildlife laws and more. Unfortunately, the formal release of the printed copies had to be postponed, but digital versions were sent out to the Malagasy zoos and conservation colleagues. The manuals were received with much appreciation, and plans remain for a formal print release in 2021. The creation of the manual and associated capacity strengthening activities were undertaken in collaboration with Madagascar’s Ministry of the Environment, and were supported by an AZA Conservation Grant, funded by the Disney Conservation Fund.

Conservation Specialist Andrea Katz retired at the end of 2020, after 43 years of service to the Duke Lemur Center. Andrea will continue for part of 2021 to roll out her AZA grant-funded work of capacity strengthening for captive lemur facilities in Madagascar. She will also continue to work with the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG) on a volunteer basis, as she has done for many years. Andrea’s broad experience with lemurs and her commitment to conservation will be greatly missed, both at DLC and in Madagascar.

Left: Andrea Katz (second from right) in Madagascar early in her 43-year career at the DLC. Left: Andrea in Madagascar in 2019, with the draft of the new lemur care manual.