Malagasy Student at Rice University is Saving Lemurs in the Wild

From left: Houston Zoo Senior Director of Wildlife Conservation, Hasinala Ramangason, Rice University Professor Dr. Amy Dunham, and Houston Zoo Director of Madagascar Programs Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy

The Houston Zoo seeks opportunities to support current and future conservation leaders locally and around the world.  In doing so, we can help to ensure that the future is filled with leaders ready to save animals from extinction. Rice University has been working in Madagascar for many years now and several years ago we discovered our Madagascar conservation efforts aligned.  In 2018, we provided a fellowship for a Malagasy student to attend Rice University. Here is his story:  

Hello Everyone! My name is Hasinala and I am a visiting scholar at Rice University and Houston Zoo Conservation Fellow. I recently received my Masters degree in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution from my home university in France.  I am originally from Madagascar, but moved to France in 2011, right after I graduated from high school in order to further my education. Despite my move to France several years ago, growing up in Madagascar, the world’s most biodiverse island, has definitely influenced my career goals and research interests. While I spent most my academic career in France, I have always been focused on returning to Madagascar. This is why I have done most of my research in Madagascar, studying their most iconic animals – the lemurs!

Choosing your advisor and where you are going to conduct your research for your Master’s thesis is of crucial importance as it will influence, to a certain extent, your future endeavors and what type of research you specialize in. I first heard about Dr. Amy Dunham, my advisor at Rice, a couple of years ago, when I met one of her former Malagasy PhD students, Onja Razafindratsima, in a research station in Madagascar. A year ago, when I first started to look for a research team to host me, Dr. Dunham was the first person I contacted among a list of +20 researchers, but lack of funding made it impossible for us to work together. While disappointing, I continued on my quest, and after several months I finally secured an internship with another research team conducting work in Madagascar. I couldn’t wait to get to work, but unfortunately nature had other plans. A plague outbreak started in Madagascar, causing the research team to postpone their trip, and once again I found myself without an internship. I desperately contacted Onja Razafindratsima, looking for labs that would host me. She suggested that I reach out to Dr. Dunham again and take another shot at collaborating with one another. A few weeks later, and against all odds, Dr. Dunham had managed to secure a fellowship for me working with her at Rice University thanks to the generosity of the Houston Zoo. The next thing I knew, I was at Rice University conducting research on seed dispersal by birds and lemurs and racing against time to wrap up my thesis. This has been, by far, the most exciting internship I’ve ever had! The main outcome of this research project has been to show that birds and lemurs, through seed dispersal, are crucial for the regeneration of forest gaps that were created by major cyclones in Madagascar. With climate change, it is expected that cyclone will be more frequent and more intense. This will cause more damage to tropical forests, and consequently there will be even more reliance on birds and lemurs to regenerate forests.

This research project has really ignited my interest for research in tropical ecology and conservation, and I am truly grateful to the Houston Zoo for making this possible. My next step ideally would be enrolling as a PhD student within the same research lab, but as you may have guessed, funding a PhD is a whole other ball game!

Meet the Houston Zoo 2018 Wildlife Warriors

In 2015, the Zoo established the Wildlife Warrior award program. Carefully chosen by the Zoo’s Admissions team, this award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge and grow them as future conservation leaders. We are excited to share that the Admissions team has just announced three new recipients for the 2018 year, that will join the ranks of 15 Wildlife Warrior alumni based in developing countries around the globe!

The 2018 Wildlife Warriors are from our partner projects all over the world saving lions, hirola antelope, and painted dogs. Here are this year’s winners:


Maria Njamba: Painted Dog Conservation 

Maria Njamba is a mother of four children and resident of Hwange. She is the Interpretive Guide at the Painted Dog Conservation Visitors Centre in Hwange. Before being employed by Painted Dog Conservation,  Maria relied on selling baskets by the road in order to make enough money to care for herself and her children.
Her life and her children’s lives changed when she was offered a job at the Bush Camp. She thought she was one of the luckiest people alive and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Her job was the help take care of the children, feed them and make sure they were safe and happy. In her free time, Maria would learn more and more about the dogs because her main interest had become educating people about the dogs and the importance of conserving them.
Because of her passion, she became the first Interpretative Hall guide at our Visitor Centre. She has influenced or reinforced love for conservation of wildlife to more than 70,000 local and international visitors to Zimbabwe and more than 11,000 children from our Bush Camp have listened to her convincing voice as she recites the story of “Eyespot.” A compelling story that depicts the challenges the painted dogs face.

“Maria was chosen for her influence and passion for spreading the conservation message to over 80,000 Zimbabwe visitors”

 


Celestino Dauda: Niassa Carnivore Project 

In 2006,  Celestino became one of the first of 5 Wildlife Guardians in our community monitoring and extension program. Working on a small stipend he never wavered from his work and has now been a wildlife guardian for 12 years.  In 2014, we promoted him to the permanent position as Head Guardian and he works tirelessly with Horacio (the program coordinator) to coordinate  and inspire the team of 35 guardians across  remote villages collecting information on human wildlife conflict, sightings of animals and fishing.  These guardians are our connection to the villages in Niassa Reserve and this work is critically important for our team.
Celestino enjoys his work  and believes it is very important as he is learning which animals are a big problem to communities so that he can help them. We asked Celestino what his advice would be for all of us. He says we must still keep fighting to promote the message that wild animals and people can live together. This is the only way forward. He lives it and breathes our mission which is to promote coexistence between wildlife, especially lions and people.

“Celestino was chosen for his long term commitment to inspiring a team of guardians and promoting coexistence between wildlife, especially lions and people”


Aden Ibrahim: Hirola Conservation Program

Aden comes from a nomadic culture – because herding was his primary focus as a child, he did not attend school. However, he wasn’t willing to herd for long, and as such, escaped from his father’s homestead to spearhead charcoal burning for almost seven years. In 2014, Hirola Conservation Program identified him as one of the people destroying wildlife habitats and subsequently recruited him as a ranger. Although illiterate, he has worked with us for the last 3.5 years and has risen through the ranks steadily. Today he is the Manager of Rewamo Conservancy (formally Sangailu) established and overseen by the HCP. He leads a team of 12 local rangers, where amongst his great achievements is the recent discovery of the previously unknown population of Oribi antelope. Further, because of their patrols, a total of 90 hirolas were counted within the conservancy in March 2018.

Aden continues to mentor youths to join conservation and has recruited a dozen of them so far who would otherwise be vulnerable to drugs, terrorism and cattle rustling activities.  Aden is hopeful about the future where he aims to expand habitat for wildlife (a problem he contributed to in the past).

“Aden (right) was chosen for his desire to expand habitat, creating a hopeful future for hirola and other wildlife”

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar through Empowering the Next Generation of Wildlife Saving Heroes

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.

Meet Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy this Weekend and Learn how YOU are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar!

This Saturday, July 7th Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, the Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs, will come from his field work in Madagascar, saving lemurs, to meet guests at the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemur and sifaka exhibit in the Wortham World of Primates. The event runs Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 3pm, with special talks from Dr. Jonah and the lemur keepers taking place at 12pm and 3:30pm.

Dr. Jonah has discovered several new species of lemurs in the wild over the past few years. He is working hard at saving all lemurs from extinction.  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 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.

See more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work on this KPRC special feature https://www.houstonzoo.org/conservation/saving-lemurs-madagascar/ .

Dr. Jonah is here to make wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo, and spend a week as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program. College students are specially selected for this conservation leadership training program. He will lead the interns on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict and effective leadership.

The Zoo’s Spotlight on Species event this weekend will be a fantastic opportunity for zoo goers to meet and hear from our special guest on how the Zoo is helping lemurs in the wild and learn more about how to support this important work. In addition to meeting Jonah, guests will have the opportunity to take part in interactive activities and shop for animal paintings, pint glasses, magnets and more (while supplies last!) 100 percent of all proceeds will be donated to saving lemurs in the wild.

Zoo members will have an additional chance to chat with Jonah during the member morning event on Saturday. Members can enter the Zoo one hour before the general public and see the keepers prepare enrichment and animal areas all around the zoo. Jonah will be near the Ring-Tailed Lemur exhibit at 8:30am.

Make sure to join us and learn how you are helping to save lemurs in Madagascar – see you there!

Amazon to Andes Field Course Inspires Youth to Save Wildlife

Houston Zoo Galapagos conservation partner, Ecology Project International (EPI)  is educating local kids on the Galapagos Islands about the wildlife that lives in their area, while engaging them in hands-on activities to protect species (beach cleanups, monitoring sea turtle nests, etc.). This year the Houston Zoo supported development opportunities for EPI students.  A student named Ibrahi recently took part in EPI’s “Amazon to Andes” field course with the Houston Zoo’s support. This is Ibrahi’s story: 

Alongside a number of students from California, we went to the Amazon to Andes Course of EPI which covers several different locations within the Amazon rainforest, the Andean cloud forest, and paramo (a treeless, elevated area in South America). During the course, we fulfilled many amazing activities, and also took part in some new activities that not all people have access to. First, we made new friends because as a Mola Mola Eco-club member, we got to know students from the US, and also reconnect with one chaperone who was once a student in the Galapagos Islands Ecology Course. During our time in the field, we had to go kayaking on the river in order to get to our camping site, which was both a new and incredible experience. We also had the opportunity to interact with a Kichwa community (the only community within the national park), and learned how to make the famous “chicha”, which is a traditional beverage.

Taking a night walk in the Amazon rainforest in the search of caiman’s hatchlings was amazing, even if we didn’t end up spotting any! Making our way up to the Andean part of Ecuador was great because special birds received us – hummingbirds! I learned more about the differences between ecosystems and how to use satellite telemetry in order to find species. In the mountains, we were in search of Andean Bears and Tapirs, which are both endangered species. We weren’t lucky enough to see both animals, but an Andean male tapir, wearing a collar allowed us to track him using satellite telemetry, putting the skills we had learned to good use.

Throughout this experience we learned a lot about our ecological footprint and how we can reduce it by changing our buying habits as consumers. As I return home to study at university, I hope to make changes in order to reduce my ecological footprint and live more sustainably. By continuing in the field of wildlife conservation, I hope to become a marine biologist to do my own research about sea turtles.

Helping Communities to Help Gorillas in Rwanda

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. One of these organizations, Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

CHT puts added emphasis on the importance of good hygiene in their programming, due to humans and gorillas in these communities living in close proximity to one another. Gorillas and humans are genetically very similar, and as a result human illnesses have the potential to spread to wild gorilla populations. In addition to teaching good habits, CHT also works to improve the livelihood of people in these communities, making adopting good hygiene practices easier. Last year the Houston Zoo provided a water tank for a CHT partner school, enabling 1,500 school children as well as their families and other members of the community to access clean water. In addition, two school gardens and 40 kitchen gardens were built, inspiring the local community to eat a healthy diet while lessening the need for people to venture into gorilla habitat looking for vegetables.

Promoting good hygiene practices is certainly important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. CHT also works with students to help them understand the importance of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat. In 2017, 219 students enrolled in a year-long after school conservation and health education program. 200 of these students received sheep that their families can use as a source of alternative income. The sheep can be used to provide wool that can be sold, which acts as a replacement for harvesting fire wood from the forest to sell. By the end of the year-long program, 78% of students reported that they better understood why mountain gorillas are important to their community, and almost 90% said that they learned that trees are important because of their role as animal habitat, their ability to prevent soil erosion, and their ability to produce the oxygen that we breathe!

When it comes to saving wildlife, there is never a “one size fits all solution”. Our partners at CHT are a great example of how creative solutions to multiple obstacles can positively contribute to conservation efforts. By helping to meet the communities’ needs, while also including community members in the discussion about issues facing wildlife and what actions each individual can do to help save them, projects like CHT not only provide a brighter future for wildlife, but for their human counterparts as well.

 

Get a Bird’s Eye View of Endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chickens at NASA’s Johnson Space Center!

You won’t see the Attwater’s prairie chicken here on zoo grounds, but you can see them now on a new exclusive web cam! Since 1995, the Houston Zoo has raised and released over 1100 Attwater’s prairie chickens into the wild. This number continues to grow, as an additional 127 Attwater’s prairie chickens have been released so far this year. As just one of many efforts the Zoo is involved in to save wildlife, our zoo keepers breed these animals behind the scenes and release them into the wild to ensure Attwater’s prairie chicken populations will recover and thrive for years to come.

Native to Texas, this small, brown bird calls the coastal prairie grasslands home. This species is best known for “booming” – a dance done by males to attract females during mating season in which they stomp their feet and fill the orange air sacs on the sides of their neck, creating a sound that can be heard up to half a mile away! With historic populations numbering close to 1,000,000 birds, it is estimated that less than 100 of these birds are left in the wild. The Houston Zoo manages the captive breeding program for the Attwater’s prairie chicken. We have breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  When the birds hatch and grow large enough, they are slowly introduced and then released into the wild, where they will support the already existing populations.

Last year, the Attwater’s prairie chickens released into the wild faced challenges similar to those encountered by fellow Texans as the release site in Goliad County took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey. The eye of the storm passed directly over or within a few miles of the release site, and the lingering rains flooded most of the Attwater’s historic range. These amazing birds face many threats once they are in the wild, but robust captive breeding programs around the state serve as a safety net, giving this species a fighting chance.

It is officially hatching season for our Attwater’s prairie chickens, and over 500 eggs are currently being incubated to raise and release back into the wild thanks to the amazing bird department here at the Zoo! Post Harvey, the habitat at NASA has rebounded and is in the best condition anyone has seen in a long time. It would seem as though things are looking up for our feathered friends this year, thanks to a dedicated network of organizations and zoo goers like you that are helping to save wildlife each time you visit us here at the Zoo. Don’t forget to check out these magnificent birds at their NASA habitat via our new Attwater’s prairie chicken webcam, and stay tuned for more updates!

For the 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala at the Houston Zoo, we’re shining a spotlight on the species and habitats of the Lone Star State! We’ll come together as Texans to raise the funds our Zoo needs to keep saving Texas wildlife like the Attwater’s prairie chicken.

Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 3

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. 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. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Maromizaha Community Forest

The forest of Maromizaha or the “dragon forest” is a moist evergreen forest of medium altitude spanning an area of 11 square miles of Madagascar’s eastern facade formed by a chain of hills separated by narrow valleys.  The mammals of Maromizaha seem rather peculiar compared to other nearby forests. Over thirty species of mammals are present , including tenrecs, rodents, shrews, small carnivores, bats, and 13 species of lemurs. Three of the area’s lemur species; indri – the world’s largest lemur, diademed sifaka and, black-and-white ruffed lemur, are critically endangered. A recent study of insects made it possible to learn the presence of more than 800 species of moths and 400 species of beetles including something known as the giraffe weevil. Over 80 species of birds as well as nearly 80 species of reptiles and amphibians are native to the forest here.

The program in Maromizaha, which sits a few hours north of the capital by car on Madagascar’s ever-winding roads, is a few years ahead of the Manombo site and is a protected area. Similar programs such as tree nurseries, reforestation, and livestock programs including a growing rabbit breeding program and a new domestic pig program are in full swing at Maromizaha. The Houston Zoo, thanks to our supporters at the Tapeats Fund, has facilitated medical and dental consultation visits to this community since 2017, and there is a new guide and eco-tour program in place to help create revenue for the local communities. Many of these villages rely on subsistence farming, so any additional income goes along way and it all ties back to supporting communities who are supporting the protection of wildlife and their rainforest homes.

Winding Down and Gearing Up

The term rainforest seems to imply hot, humid, and wet. However, this time of year it is actually winter in Madagascar. The temperature is certainly cooler than Houston right now, but things are just as wet! Village roads are unpaved, which means muddy cars, muddy shoes, and despite my attempts to stay clean, muddy feet. Regardless, day to day life goes on, and for us it is a review of the ecotour guide program which means a 3 hour trek up the hills to look for the islands largest living lemur – the Indri, whose haunting calls can be heard as we wake to start the day. We are also on the lookout for Diademed Sifaka, Ruffed lemur and Bamboo lemur. Personally, my eyes are on the ground to help ensure I don’t slide off the thin, muddy, slippery trail and slide down the hill.

Three long hours later, there they were – the Indri. The researchers here monitor 11 separate social groups of Indri. Their work reminds me very much of our friends in Rwanda who track an bring visitors to see individual groups of mountain gorillas. We spent a few minutes watching them sit quietly in the trees eating their “breakfast” and then we moved back down he trail catching glimpses of red-ruffed lemur, sifaka, and bamboo lemurs in between the misty rain.

Madagascar is an amazing island with an unfortunate environmental past. Today, only a fraction of the native rainforest remains, but among it lives hundreds of plant and tree species, over 100 species of lemurs and a dizzying array of reptiles, amphibians, birds and invertebrates. This fragile land is prone to erosion, and seasonal cyclones, but it is an island whose biodiversity can be saved with the help of local communities. With every visit to the Houston Zoo, a portion of your admission goes towards saving animals in the wild. With your help, we are working with partners in Madagascar on a more sustainable future for wildlife.

Back in Houston, we will turn all the information from this visit into a working plan to create more community based conservation programs.

Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 2

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. 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. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

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.

What happened to days 2, 3 and 4? Madagascar happened, that’s what. Even if I ignore the two 12 hour flights and short layover in between, heading out from the capital of Antananarivo (“Tana”) with our partners at GERP to the village of Manombo in the south is close to a 18 hour drive. Not a bad drive, just a very long drive on a main road through small villages and communities.

Now at Manombo, we spent a few days visiting all the community activities that occur in order to create development activities for the villagers as part of the partnership to live more sustainably around the Reserve, and in turn, help save animals in the wild.

Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village.

Some of those activities are similar to what you have seen in our other programs:

  • Beekeeping, which creates a secondary source of income for the beekeeper families in the community an, item that is heavily sought after in the region but difficult to find. One successful family can generate over 5 gallons of honey a year!
  • Basket weaving and sewing. The Women’s Association here creates and then sells baskets, mats, and other crafts in the local markets
  • Wildlife monitoring in the Manombo Special Reserve. A team of conservation biologist assistants monitors lemurs and other wildlife, as well as tree species, throughout the year. This includes the critically endangered James’ sportive lemur which is found nowhere else on the island
  • Tree Nursery and Reforestation program. Over 20 staff from Manombo maintain a tree nursery and the local community volunteers their time to plant these trees throughout the year. In 2017, 55,000 trees were planted!
  • Medical visits: it is difficult for these communities to get health care as they are over 10 miles from the nearest large town, and many cannot afford hospital or doctor visits. Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village. This past Monday, the medical team spent seven hours treating over 150 patients, including administering measles vaccines for young children, flu vaccines, antibiotics for common illnesses, preforming pregnancy check ups, and  dispensing vitamins for potential malnutrition related issues. Both the care and medications are free of charge as part of this partnership.
Ranomafana National Park is one of the next stops on Peter’s trip!

After a few meetings with Ministry of Environment and regional authorities on future plans for the Manombo Special Reserve, we are heading back north with a quick stop at Ranomafana National Park and Centre ValBio, a world class research center here in Madagascar. Stay tuned for more updates when we get to our next project site at the Maromizaha Community Protected Area.

We are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar

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!

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