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SAVA Conservation

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.

Environmental Education

DLC is also a major resource for undergraduate and graduate student education. Duke ENGAGE and Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) send undergraduate volunteers to work in the SAVA region, as well as other Duke groups such as Duke Global Health Initiative. All are facilitated by DLC-SAVA.

The DLC-SAVA project is run exclusively on grant and donor funding – please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!


To learn more, click thorough our FAQ below. Or, read the latest edition of the SAVA Conservation newsletter free online!

Why does Madagascar matter?

Madagascar 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 found in Madagascar exist naturally 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 on the planet.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 – creates such a vast array of habitats for wildlife and plants 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 the last 60 years, forest cover has decreased by nearly 40% (Harper et al., 2007). At least 17 species of 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, using traditional forms of slash-and-burn agriculture, a low-tech but destructive farming method which results in erosion and wildfires, and loss of arable 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.

100% of funds for the DLC's conservation projects comes from donors and grants. Please consider making a contribution today to support SAVA conservation. Thank you!

How does the DLC-SAVA project help?

30 years of conservation experience has taught the Duke Lemur Center that sustainable forest protection in Madagascar is a long-term investment which requires building relationships and gaining the trust of local peoples. DLC’s SAVA Conservation project relies on a community-based approach to protect natural forests. An array of diverse project activities are designed to ultimately play a part in ensuring local forest protection, while simultaneously improving the lives of the local people. All project activities are interwoven with an element of capacity building, in order to empower local people at all levels. It is, after all, their country.

DLC-SAVA project activities include:

Environmental education teaches young Malagasy students the importance of forest protection and wise use of environmental resources.

Reforestation not only puts trees back on the landscape, but is an excellent tool with which to teach youth the importance of forests.

Fish farming gives local people an alternative protein source to bush meat, which is often hunted lemurs. DLC-SAVA has assisted local villages in forming associations, installing ponds, and farming the native Paratilapia fish.

Yam cultivation is a form of sustainable farming. It reduces erosion by eliminating annual burning, and has the added advantage of being more resistant to tropical cyclones.

Fuel-efficient stoves distributed at subsidized prices by the project can reduce wood use by 50%, and has the potential to improve respiratory health in women and children.

Family planning gives local women reproductive choices and helps reduce human pressure on the land and forests of the SAVA region.

Research is an important element in any conservation project such as DLC-SAVA, and also provides opportunities to train and mentor Malagasy university students and scientists.

100% of funds for the DLC's conservation projects comes from donors and grants. Please consider making a contribution today to support SAVA conservation. Thank you!

Additional resources

Get in touch with SAVA Conservation! Submit your question or inquiry to

Peruse our newsletters to keep up to date with the latest news and information on the DLC-SAVA project.

Read our “Notes from the Field” blog series, chronicling DLC researcher and SAVA Conservation Coordinator Marina Blanco’s field expedition to Madagascar!

Read "Charlie's Travelogue," detailing Conservation Coordinator Charlie Welch's trip to Madagascar in February 2018!

Travel with us

Join the Duke Lemur Center in Madagascar!  Click here for details regarding our July 2018 trip!