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Protecting Threatened Lemur Habitat in Madagascar

by SEED Madagascar
Protecting Threatened Lemur Habitat in Madagascar
Cleared Corridor
Cleared Corridor

As Project Ala nears the end of its first year, it is an exciting time to celebrate the progress of our innovative planting strategy so far. Project Ala is using a Framework Species Method to reforest land between some of the last remaining fragments of the littoral forest in Sainte Luce. In January 2020 we completed an important step, planting eleven different species of native pioneer plants. These species are adapted for colonising degraded landscapes, and were chosen for their ability to grow quickly, their resilience to strong sunlight, and being favoured by native seed dispersers including lemurs and bats.

Planting fast-growing, sun-loving, non-native species three metres apart allowed room for two native seedlings to be planted for each non-native seedling. Using this system, we aim to achieve maximum forest regeneration through natural seed dispersal from neighbouring forests, using   a minimal amount of artificial planting and future management effort.

This strategy is proving to be a success. One-month survival surveys found both non-native and native pioneer seedlings in each corridor to have a survival rate of greater than 75%. This is a fantastic result, especially given that our predicted survival rate for seedlings is 50%!

Following survival surveys at one-month, six-month, and annual intervals, any seedlings that have died are replanted to ensure we give the corridors the best chance of establishment during the project timescale.

Looking ahead to the next year of Project Ala, we plan to continue to establish a diverse and multi-layered forest structure within the corridors by planting a further 12 native plant species. These are characteristically slower growing and favour forest gaps and the shading of canopies, and so will require the growth of pioneer species to create these conditions.

Once the corridors have been established with the non-native species for three years, landowners will be able to sustainably log the species, providing an alternative income in return for their involvement. This will also benefit the corridors by opening the forest up to enable dormant native seeds to germinate. In the long term, Project Ala hopes to establish mature corridors of littoral forest to connect the remnant forest fragments and maintain the health of the whole ecosystem.

A note on coronavirus

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most project activities planned will be postponed until further notice in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus to the vulnerable communities where we work. In the meantime, the corridors will continue to grow and establish as nature intended and activities will be resumed as soon as possible.

Native Species
Native Species
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Children painting at SEED's after-school club
Children painting at SEED's after-school club

Since October 2019, Project Ala has been lucky enough to work with young people from the local community to help change attitudes towards conservations and sustainability. By engaging youth about the forest threats and lemur conservation taking place on their doorstep, SEED Madagascar can help create the stewards of the forest who will preserve this unique habitat for future generations.

Project Ala has been working with Club Atsatsaky (or Club Gecko) an afterschool club run by SEED Madagascar, which reaches over 100 local youth every week. These sessions are delivered by Malagasy education specialists and are a favourite for the youth of Sainte Luce. The young people receive presentations, containing exciting audio-video material and always end in educational games. These interactive games have helped teach things such as tree anatomy, habitat connectivity, plant lifecycles, and different conservation strategies, which they would not usually get the opportunity to learn about. The young people have also been on forest adventures with our local guides to see the trees and animals that they have been learning about

During World Lemur Day 2019, the young people of Sainte Luce participated in quizzes to test their knowledge on lemurs. The day proved very popular, especially as there were prizes of notepads, crayons, and educational books for answering questions currently on lemurs and their habitats. Plans are already being made for World Lemur Day 2020 to make it an even bigger success!

The task of changing attitudes towards conservation and sustainability in Sainte Luce is a difficult one, but by engaging the youth of the community we can make a long-term positive impact on the future guardians of this unique forest.

Interactive games during World Lemur Day
Interactive games during World Lemur Day
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The fragmented habitats we are working to reforest
The fragmented habitats we are working to reforest

What an exciting few months we have had with Project Ala! The project was officially launched in July, and this was shortly followed by our first planting event. With our first seedlings planted, we are a big step closer to saving this fragmented habitat.

Planting events are very busy occasions for Laza, our Project Coordinator: community members must be employed, land cleared, holes dug and seedlings and compost carried, all before the seedlings are finally planted. With one of Project Ala's corridors being 222m in length, there is a lot of work to be done and the team needs lots of helping hands to undertake the physical labour involved.

Members of the local community begin work several days before planting commences. They start by clearing the land, removing the ground vegetation – which in our case is mostly an invasive heather species – to make way for digging the holes. Holes are dug 3m apart, and without technology or fancy equipment in the field, a piece of rope marked at every 3m is used to help decide where to dig the holes. Then it is finally time to plant the seedlings.

Tree planting can be a lively event, with everyone mucking in to get their hands dirty. Women from the local community receive training on how best to plant the seedlings, to increase the chances of their survival. When the planting begins, all the women are conversing about their week and the local goings-on – it is a great chance for SEED’s Conservation and Research Program (SCRP) volunteers to speak to members of the community, learning their names and practising their Malagasy!

Now that planting is underway, we’ve begun field research on Project Ala too, and are excited to have found a very promising survival rate among our seedlings in the first two forest corridors. We’ve also been collecting data about the lemurs, amphibians and reptiles living in the forest remnants, which will help us to assess the success of these new corridors going forward.

Over the next couple of months, Project Ala has a lot to look forward to. We will be beginning our youth education sessions in local communities, clearing up firebreaks around the protected area and erecting fire mitigation signs. We will also be planting the last two corridors, so watch this space for more updates!

Carrying seedlings to the corridors for planting
Carrying seedlings to the corridors for planting
Invasive heather needing clearing before planting
Invasive heather needing clearing before planting
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Laza, Project Coordinator
Laza, Project Coordinator

Salama! My name is Laza and I’m the Project Coordinator for Project Ala.

From a young age, I’ve been interested in the environment. I grew up in Fianarantsoa, central Madagascar, where I completed my schooling. Since then, I have been striving to gain work experience that combines my two greatest passions: English and the environment. Straight after school, I trained to become a tour guide in nature reserves. I also worked as a Nursery Manager for a French organisation, where I was responsible for growing seedlings and educating children on the environment. In 2017, I started working in Fort Dauphin as a translator for SEED Madagascar. When the coordinator position for Project Ala came up, I knew this was perfect for me. I wanted to become a coordinator because I want to develop my skills and gain more responsibilities. Project Ala gives me the opportunity to work on an environment project again, and a forestry one at that!

With Project Ala, we are aiming to conserve three nocturnal lemur species by planting four corridors between pieces of forest that have become fragmented. Over the last decades, the forest cover in Madagascar has significantly declined. It makes me sad to see how human activities, such as logging and tavy (slash and burn agriculture), have left forests fragmented and depleted. This means that lemurs, among other species, have less and less space to live. The species we focus on in this project can’t cross open land. By constructing corridors, lemurs have access to other forest fragments too. Have you ever seen a lemur jumping? It’s a special feeling.

To me, the most important part of the project is working with the local community to manage the forests. Through working closely with the community and conducting education sessions, we can raise awareness of the importance of the forests and everything in it. So much of the flora and fauna in the Sainte Luce Littoral Forest is endemic to Madagascar or even endemic to that particular forest! I hope that, through this project, we open the eyes of kids, as they are the next generation and should become champions for their own forests.

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Hoby with one of our target lemur species
Hoby with one of our target lemur species

On Earth Day 2019, highlighting threatened and endangered species seems more crucial than ever, so we thought we’d take a step back and remind ourselves why this project is so important.

Madagascar is widely regarded as a top biodiversity conservation priority for its high overall diversity, levels of endemism and rates of deforestation. Unfortunately, it’s thought that approximately only 10% to 15% of the original forest cover remains, with deforestation continuing at around 1% annually. With Madagascar’s high population growth, its natural resources are increasingly put under strain for people’s energy, food and construction needs. Slash and burn agriculture or ‘tavy’ as it’s locally known, along with unsustainable logging has left Madagascar’s forests in unconnected and depleting fragments.

The littoral forest, a unique closed forest ecosystem occurring in close proximity to the ocean and in sandy substrates, were once thought to have formed a continuous 1,600km band along the east coast of Madagascar. Unfortunately, only around 10% of that original littoral forest remains within isolated forest parcels, yet still contain approximately 1,535 plant species or around 13% of Madagascar’s total native diversity. High endemism, with 25% of plant species in the littoral forests found only in this vegetation type, meaning that they should be among the priority sites recommended to the government for plant conservation and incorporation into the protected areas network. The Sainte Luce Littoral Forest (SLLF) represents 2.4% of Madagascar’s remaining littoral forest extent, harbouring exceptional floristic diversity and many threatened and endangered species that are found nowhere else in Madagascar.

The SLLF, comprising 15 diminishing fragments contains three lemur species, of which, the southern woolly lemur (Avahi meridionalis) is listed as endangered by the IUCN. The Anosy mouse lemur (Microcebus tanosi) and the Thomas’ dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus thomasi) are currently under assessment, but likely will be listed as endangered due to extensive habitat degradation. With habitat destruction and fragmentation diminishing suitable habitats and inhibiting species movement within the littoral forests, these lemur species face an uncertain future.

Reconnecting forest fragments with biological corridors is an effective and successful conservation strategy that will be employed to facilitate movement of biodiversity and especially threatened and endangered lemur species. The importance of reconnecting these forest fragments is also highlighted through the fact that three of these lemurs; Avahi meridionalis, Cheirogaleus thomasi and Microcebus tanosi are not only nocturnal, but cannot traverse over open land between the forest patches. Therefore corridors between fragments are considered a conservation priority for the SLLF to provide wildlife with greater accessibility to space and resources, consequently increasing home range availability and allowing for larger populations to exist. The effectiveness of using corridors as a lemur conservation strategy will be assessed by collecting long term research through the development of line transects and camera trap technology to understand if and when these lemur species will utilise the corridors throughout their growth.

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Organization Information

SEED Madagascar

Location: London - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @azafady
Project Leader:
Zac Hill
London, London United Kingdom
$1,731 raised of $8,500 goal
40 donations
$6,769 to go
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