Darwin Animal Doctors


Saving Madagascar Together

Way back in May, our very own Doctor Tara Clarke gave an amazing presentation for the Indian Association of Primatologists on Madagascar, the Vanishing 8th Continent.

One of our most recent projects at DAD is Saving Madagascar Together: Community Youth Environmental Program. The program uses the Youth Rangers program we told you about a few weeks ago, and has been selected to teach environmental conservation and animal welfare topics for students and community members whose overall interaction with their ecosystem, conservation and natural forest is somewhat limited.

In her presentation, Tara starts by looking at just how exceptional Madagascar is. You can find her whole presentation in the link below, but we’re going to give you some of the highlights here.

The geological and natural history of Madagascar is incredible. It separated from India, and all other land 88 million years ago, so it’s had an exceptionally long time to evolve a truly unique array of plants and animals. The biodiversity is immense and so many of the species are endemic, found only in Madagascar: 90% of the plant life; 99% of the amphibians, all of which are frogs!; 96% of the reptiles, Madagascar has half the world’s species of chameleon; and 7/8 of the Malagasy carnivores, including King Julian’s nemesis, the Fossa!!!

And that is to say nothing of the already extinct species of Madagascar. As recently as 1000years ago, Madagascar was home to an impressive array of giant mega-fauna including elephant birds, giant fossa and giant lemurs- the size of gorillas!!! Unfortunately a combination of human activities contributed to the extinction of these giant creatures. Tara will tell you more about them in her presentation!

Of course the most famous of Madagascar’s animals are the adorable, charismatic lemurs! Having had 40 million years to evolve separately, after rafting across the 250km of the Mozambique Channel on land breaks, these primates are unique to Madagascar. Having no competitors, they were able to evolve to fill all the ecological niches: in the year 2000 alone 51 new species were described. They still have an immense diversity from tiny, 30 gram Mouse lemurs, to the 9.5kg Indri lemur. Sadly though, these beautiful creatures are still at risk of more extinction. 95% of the different species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, making them the most endangered of the primates.

Not only the lemurs are threatened, the whole extent of Madagascar’s amazing biodiversity is at risk. Madagascar is a top conservation priority: it is a biodiversity hotspot, but less than 30% of its natural vegetation remains. In the case of Madagascar, it’s much less, and what little primary forest remains is very fragmented. Human induced activity: slash and burn agriculture, illegal logging, mining, charcoal burning and the illegal pet trade have had a devastating effect.

But of course there are conservation efforts in place. In the presentation, Tara talks about a number of novel approaches to conservation, including; social media, where they’ve actually done research using Twitter into pet lemurs; citizen science, a new area of research where anonymous surveys track sightings of lemurs kept as pets in Madagascar, which is of course illegal; and Wildlife Forensic Genetic Barcoding, which they are calling Poop Science!

Wildlife Forensic Genetic Barcoding, uses DNA sequences collected from animals, or in this case from their poop, to identify the species, and has been used in poaching incidents, including elephants and sharks. In this case, the poop is being collected, non-invasively, from ring-tailed lemurs in wild populations, pets and in sanctuaries so it can be identified where they are being captured and these hot spots can be the focus of targeted conservation efforts.

And of course there is our very own project that we touched on earlier: Saving Madagascar Together! It is designed to provide immersive course material to supplement the environmental education program run by Association Mitsinjo, in the Andasibe National Park. Participants will learn about and experience a day in the life of an Association Mitsinjo environmental volunteer and work alongside their instructors and local environmentalists to protect the forests.

Association Mitsinjo (http://associationmitsinjo.wordpress.com) is a nonprofit dedicated to reforestation, ecotourism, wildlife rehabilitation and conservation, and environmental education of the Commune of Andasibe residents, stationed just outside the National Park. They work with 10 local primary schools to expand environmental and conservation knowledge in their local area.

Our project hopes to supplement Association Mitsinjo’s current program, dedicated to connecting students with their local forest, educating students on their conduct in the context of ecosystems they aren’t usually able to experience in full. The students will take part in a variety of fun, interactive activities from litter pick ups, restoring habitats, learning about volunteer efforts, and monitoring amphibian and lemur populations through scavenger hunts, as well as learning how to be safe and responsible in the forest. Young people will learn about the amazing endangered species in their local environment and be able to develop their own research in simple community surveys to identify the needs of the local community and how communities can also support the work of local environmentalists.

Tara has some fascinating lemur facts in her presentation, as well as expanding on some of the ideas we’ve shared with you in brief. There is also much more about the research being done in Madagascar and their findings, so please do check out her presentation in the link below!


While we’re very excited to be developing this amazing community project in Madagascar, it has of course had its own delays this year. We hope we’ll soon be able to give you new reports from Madagascar.


Tod and the Team, Darwin Animal Doctors

In loving memory of our hero, Piggy:

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