Location: Madagascar
Project Managers: Ingrid Porton
Species: Lemurs
Priority: High

Background

To achieve our goal to conserve Madagascar’s unique and globally important biodiversity, the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for Conservation in Madagascar joined with the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG). The Saint Louis Zoo was a founding member of this international consortium of zoos and other institutions. Formed in 1988, MFG works to help conserve the island’s animal species through reproduction, field research and training programs for rangers and wardens, and through acquisition and protection of native habitat on the island. In 2003, Saint Louis Zoo staff assumed the chairmanship of MFG and its international office was moved to our Zoo.

MFG’s work is among the highest of conservation priorities because many of Madagascar’s animal and plant species, like the highly endangered lemur, are found nowhere else in the world. This species ranges from the pygmy mouse lemur weighing only one ounce, to the long-legged sifaka that can weigh up to 15 pounds. While lemurs are the most easily recognized Malagasy animals at the Saint Louis Zoo, we also exhibit tomato frogs, leaf-tailed and Madagascar geckos, the radiated tortoise, giant hissing cockroaches and other species.

In creating an organization to save this and other species, the MFG was ahead of its time in realizing that combining financial resources under one umbrella significantly increases the in-situ conservation impact of any one institution.

About Madagascar

The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is approximately the size of California. Its landscape varies widely from humid tropical rainforests on the east coast to dry scrub forests in the south to rugged mountains in the north. Its isolation and varied habitats enabled the evolution of animal and plant species that are unique to Madagascar. Over 95 percent of the reptiles, frogs and freshwater fish, an endemic family of insectivores and four primate families (all lemurs) are endemic to the island.

Although rich in biodiversity, Madagascar has been historically recognized as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Conservationists are faced with the dual challenge of helping increase the Malagasy people’s standard of living, while combating factors that contribute to environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. With the doubling of the human population on the island over the past 20 years, 85 percent of the original forest area has disappeared. There has been significant habitat fragmentation and erosion-related siltation of the island’s rivers and lakes. This habitat loss/degradation is the primary reason so many of Madagascar’s endemic species are threatened with extinction.

St. Louis Interest

The Saint Louis Zoo has a long history of managing and developing husbandry expertise with lemur species. The Zoo's animal management, veterinary and research staff have assumed leading roles in the science of endangered species reintroduction techniques through the release of captive ruffed lemurs into Betampona. This expertise will help future reintroductions for similar primates.

MFG's Conservation Strategies

Much of MFG’s success can be attributed to maintaining an in-country office and staff who can evaluate, recommend and monitor projects. During the more than two decades that MFG has worked in Madagascar, the organization has pursued four key strategies in carrying out its conservation mission: conducting research, building capacity, providing education and taking action by working with the Malagasy people on conservation initiatives.

Conducting Research

Conservation medicine is a relatively new discipline that integrates human, environmental and wildlife health. In 2000, Saint Louis Zoo veterinary staff began a health survey of wild lemurs in Madagascar. Collecting basic data on health parameters and disease in multiple species over time and in different environments allows conservation biologists and veterinarians to understand the ecology of diseases. Many studies have shown that as fragmented habitats shrink and animal population densities increase, disease is one factor that can cause local extinction of animals. For this reason, understanding and monitoring lemur diseases is an important component of species’ conservation efforts.

Building Capacity

Perhaps nothing is more important than building the capacity of Malagasy institutions and people. Under MFG, the Saint Louis Zoo is playing a particularly significant role in advancing this by funding the construction of the Ivoloina Conservation Training Center (ICTC). This facility was identified by Malagasy leaders as a priority for educating natural resource managers and biologists. The number of students, teachers, farmers and others using these facilities is increasing, because the hands-on field and laboratory training offered at ICTC are rare in Madagascar. For example, the Saint Louis Zoo’s WildCare Institute has supported a Ph.D. candidate in researching the most effective and least environmentally detrimental way to remove the highly invasive guava plant from Betampona Natural Reserve. This is critically important to managing this and other island reserves.

Providing Education

MFG’s Environmental Education program includes formal and informal activities for primary and secondary school children. We also tailor environmental messages for adults through nationally celebrated festivals, radio spots, newsletters and posters. Networking with local community leaders has enabled MFG to become an increasingly important voice in the communities we serve.

Taking Action

MFG is working with local villagers to restore Betampona’s Zone of Protection. A forest’s edge is subject to the brunt of weather conditions, encroachment of invasive plants, pollution and human disturbances. Degradation of the edge creates a new edge leading to a cycle of forest loss. Reforestation of the Zone is an important conservation initiative to protect the integrity of Betampona’s 2,223-hectare (5,575-acre) lowland rainforest and the large number of animal and plant species that inhabit the reserve.

Partners

University of Missouri - St. Louis
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Madagascar Fauna Group
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo
University of Antananarivo
University of Tamatave
Washington University
Ivoloina Zoo
University of Missouri - Columbia Veterinary College and Animal Nutrition Department