The Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group: Implementing the One Plan Approach to Conservation
R. Eric Miller, DVM, DACZM
The Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG) is an international consortium (with partners in nine countries on five continents) of 27 zoos and aquariums, a botanical garden, and a university that support conservation at Betampona Natural Reserve and Parc Ivoloina, both near Tamatave, Madagascar. The MFG’s approach to conservation is holistic and includes animal health as an integral part of its research and management programs. Membership levels are Managing ($10,000/year), Contributing ($5,000/year), Supporting ($2,500/year), and Friends of the MFG (<$2,500/year). Memberships are made in three-year commitments as conservation needs are ongoing and long-term.
The MFG was founded in 1988 in response to a request from the Malagasy government for assistance in protecting their biodiversity. Since Madagascar is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, has a booming population, and faces massive deforestation, the conservation needs of this biodiversity “hotspot” are immense. At Parc Ivoloina, the MFG supports a 282-hectare native fauna zoo, an eco-agricultural station, a botanical propagation center, a training center, and an environmental education center. At the 2,228-hectare Betampona Natural Reserve, the MFG protects and carries out research in one of the most biodiverse remnants of Madagascar’s eastern lowland rainforest.
The MFS’s activities are integrated across various disciplines and at both sites are centered on four areas of activity: (1) conservation action, (2) capacity building, (3) environmental education, and (4) conservation research.
Conservation action takes many forms. At Parc Ivoloina, three priority lemur species are part of breeding programs that serve as reservoirs for global lemur populations. For example, exchanges of the greater bamboo lemurs, Prolemur simus, have taken place between Parc Ivoloina and European zoos. The Ivoloina Forestry Station houses a model farm for sustainable agriculture, a tree nursery for endangered plant species, and restoration project for damaged land. The MFG is also part of an emergency conservation action to control the invasive toad, Duttaphrynus melanostictus, in the Tamatave region. At Betampona, the ranger patrols of the park are supported by the MFG. From 1997 to 2001, 13 captive-bred black-and-white ruffed lemurs, Varecia variegata, were reintroduced into Betampona. Several survived and genetically reinforced the wild population. Around Betampona, there is also an active effort to restore the peripheral zone of vegetation.
Capacity building includes the use of the Ivoloina Conservation and Training Center at Parc Ivoloina, a facility that includes a lecture hall, a laboratory, and dormitories. Training in sustainable agriculture and agroforestry for local farmers and school children is carried out in the villages around Parc Ivoloina and Betampona. In partnership with the University of Antananarivo College of Veterinary Medicine, there is a program to train Malagasy veterinarians in conservation medicine.
A newly renovated Environmental Education Center offers environmental classes for Malagasy students and teacher training. The community actively participates in several annual events, including World Environment Day. One program that was adopted by UNICEF and replicated at three other conservation sites in Madagascar is “Saturday Schools.” When large numbers of village students failed to pass the exam that would allow them to continue on in school, their parents asked MFG to help them improve (their pass rate has gone from ∼15% to 80+%).
MFG’s conservation research program is multifaceted. Long-term mapping and meteorologic data at Betampona are being used to monitor climate change. Plant research focuses on long-term botanical plots and regeneration studies. Invasive plants, particularly guava and torch ginger, are a significant problem at Betampona. Mapping of their pattern and spread has been followed by research on how to best eradicate them (e.g., coppicing appears to be a promising management tool). Amphibian researchers have identified 30+ new species at Betampona. Mammalian research has focused on lemurs, particularly following the Varecia reintroductions, and recently began studies on the impact of introduced carnivores and rodents on endemic small mammals and carnivores. The impact of diseases in lemurs, small mammals, and carnivores has been and remains a research focus. Recently, a One Health project surveyed the health of people around Betampona and studied their consumption of bush meat (fortunately the population was relatively healthy and bush meat consumption relatively low).
In summary, the MFG offers a holistic approach to protecting and studying an extremely biodiverse and threatened portion of Madagascar. The support of zoos, a university, and a botanical garden sustains significant, integrated research, including that related to animal health, habitat protection, education, and community development. For more information, go to: www.madagascarfaunaflora.org.
The author wishes to thank Maya Moore, MFG Madagascar Program Director; Karen Freeman, MFG Research Director; Ingrid Porton, MFG Vice President for Conservation and Research; Alex Ruebel, MFG Vice Chair for Finance; Fidisoa Rasambainarivo, DVM, MSc, PhD Candidate; Sharon Deem, DVM, PhD, DACZM; and Randall Junge, DVM, DACZM, MFG Veterinary Advisor, for their past and present contributions to the MFG program.