Over the past week, lucky Zoo goers may have had the pleasure of running into Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs and one of the founding members of GERP, an organization saving lemurs in the wild. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including eight species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. In the past few years, Jonah and the team at GERP have discovered two new species of mouse lemurs – they continue to work tirelessly in order to save each and every one of these species from extinction.
Jonah took a break from his work in the field and spent all of last week visiting us here in Houston serving as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil. Each year, 10 students from universities around the US are selected to spend a summer at the Houston Zoo in order to train, learn, and work alongside Zoo staff and regional conservation partners. Jonah led the interns through discussions and activities focused on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict, and effective leadership. Opportunities to learn from conservation heroes like Jonah are rare, and the interns treasured every moment they had with him. As Jamie put it, “his perseverance in life shines through in every accomplishment he has made, and listening to him speak you could feel his passion fill the room”. When their week with Jonah came to an end, the interns were left with one feeling shared between them all – they were inspired:
“Jonah’s visit left me with more confidence than I have ever felt in the field of conservation that is usually filled with consistent challenges and failure. As he explained over and over, it is okay to fail as long as you get back up, and as long as you set your goals and stick to them. I will never forget his visit and hope that we will one day meet again – but instead of being a college student, being a conservation hero alongside him.” – Brooke, 2018 CCP Intern
It is safe to say that the lessons learned during this week will not soon be forgotten.
Dr. Jonah spent the remainder of his time in Houston making wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo and sharing his love of lemurs with guests out on Zoo grounds. Jonah says that no lemurs will become extinct on his watch, and we believe him! He reminds us that no matter what you do for a living, everyone has a skill that can benefit conservation, and just by visiting the Zoo you are helping to save lemurs in the wild.
To see more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work , check out this KPRC special feature.