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.