The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. GERP is a project run entirely by local Madagascar staff. The project aims to protect lemurs and other wildlife through research as well as address illegal export and poaching threats to lemurs by ensuring the enforcement of local wildlife protection laws. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country.
Peter arrived in Madagascar Thursday after 24+ hours of flying. This initial trek was followed by a 12-14 hour drive to Manombo, one of the two primary conservation sites the Zoo has supported with GERP. Situated in the southeastern part of Madagascar, the Manombo Special Reserve was created in 1962. This 32sq. mile area is made up of lowland rainforest and marshlands which in part have been turned into rice paddies for local agriculture. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven 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. Plant life is abundant here including more than 50 different types of palm trees. It is also interestingly the reserve with the largest number of land snail species on the island – over 50 – because you can never have enough land snails!
Most of the communities here are dependent on fishing, cattle, agriculture and creating handicrafts. Being dependent on these natural resources to survive makes conservation a tricky balancing act in an area with such a large number of species found nowhere else on Madagascar, and for the most part nowhere else in the world. That being said, GERP has been hard at work in Manombo over the past year, planting over 43,000 seedlings that will provide food to the grey-headed brown lemur, and engaging local schools and community members in educational activities centered around the importance of conserving lemurs and their habitats.
To learn more about how the Houston Zoo and GERP are partnering to save wildlife in Madagascar, check out the 2017 Madagascar Special produced by KPRC. Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy will also be visiting us here in Houston next month, so stay tuned for information on how you can meet this wildlife saving hero at the Zoo!