Collaboration and Community Partnerships are Key to Conservation Efforts in Madagascar

August 14, 2023

The 2023 DLC-SAVA Conservation Bass Connections team in Madagascar! Photo: Martin Braun..
The team in Madagascar (Photo: Martin Braun)

By James Herrera, Program Coordinator, Duke Lemur Center-SAVA Conservation

The DLC-SAVA Conservation team welcomed students on the Bass Connections Biocultural Sustainability in Madagascar team to the field for the summer. 

Some team members returned for their second year, while it was the first time in Madagascar for others. The ecology subteam conducted research on lemurs and camps in the remote rainforest, and the social sciences subteam lived in the community, leading interviews and development interventions. This summer, the emphasis was on monitoring and evaluation of our programs and outcomes during the first year.

The elusive silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus). Only found in the northeast, the COMATSA protected area seems to be a safe-haven; at least 3 groups can be found in the vicinity of our camp!
The elusive silky sifaka (Propithecus candidus); at least three groups can be found in the vicinity of our camp.

The forest ecology team, led by Ph.D. candidate Camille DeSisto, got off to an amazing start, collecting hundreds of seeds from lemur food trees, including those from lemur feces! She has been testing how lemurs affect seed germination and interact with trees in complex networks. With her team of 15 co-researchers from Malagasy universities and the local forest management association, she coordinated lemur observations and monitored surveys, botanical inventories, seed germination experiments and more. The team observed dozens of lemurs, but most exciting of all was that one group observed the rare and elusive fosa, the biggest carnivore of Madagascar!

In the local communities, six surveys are being implemented to monitor and evaluate conservation action plans. The overarching goal is to refine these plans, improve our programs and lead new development interventions to meet the needs of the communities.

Duke master's student Dania Nasir led program evaluations that asked respondents to share their experience with the Duke Lemur Center interventions, such as market vegetable and chicken husbandry workshops. The respondents overall were greatly appreciative of the training they received, and individual surveys showed that more than 50% of trainees are adopting new methods of raising chickens and growing productive crops.

Researcher Esperio Jaozafy interviews participants about chicken husbandry practices.
Researcher Esperio Jaozafy interviews participants about chicken husbandry practices.

Soil tests showed how those trainees who implemented the techniques taught in our climate-smart regenerative agriculture workshops have dramatically improved soil health and quality, increased yields and reduced crop loss due to droughts. Twenty farmers are using techniques learned in our chicken husbandry workshops to design chicken coops and vaccinate their flocks, and now their hens are laying eggs at remarkable rates!

We followed up with more workshops on rice, vanilla and fish farming, all staple activities in local livelihoods.

Jane Slentz-Kesler (a senior at Macalester College) and postgraduates from the regional university studied how local conservation action plans are implemented. They've been learning what we can do to improve sustainability and efforts to protect and restore the landscape. By creating spaces where local stakeholders can have their voices heard, we are learning what works in forest management, and what we can do to improve in the future.

We were excited by our early results, which gave us motivation to overcome the hardships of our fieldwork. While fun and exciting, fieldwork in remote Madagascar is tough! Our team dealt with challenges like sickness, multi-day journeys by car on bad dirt roads and long hikes through the countryside and forest. Translating and piloting new survey instruments took time, and our teams spent days deliberating over the precise wording to ensure our questions and protocols were mutually understood.

Camille DeSisto and her collaborator Edgar Rabevao prepare for another summer in the field. (Photo: Martin Braun.
Camille DeSisto and her collaborator Edgar Rabevao (Photo: Martin Braun)

Throughout all these challenges, our international team kept their spirits high, with cross-cultural exchanges at every opportunity. With over 30 Malagasy partners involved in the project, our Duke team is extremely grateful for all the hard work and dedication of our key collaborators. We look forward to sharing our results as we generate new findings.

Learn More