Location: Madagascar
Center Director: Elizabeth (Lisa) Kelley, Ph.D.
Assistant Director: Bob Merz
Species: Madagascar fauna and flora, with a focus on the diurnal lemurs
Priority: High


Madagascar’s animal and plant species, like the highly endangered lemurs, are found nowhere else in the world. The various species of lemur range anywhere from the pygmy mouse lemur, weighing only an ounce, to the indri, which can weigh up to 19 pounds. Lemurs are among the most endangered group of mammals in the world. As recently as 2,500 years ago, lemurs the size of gorillas roamed the island, and 10 ft tall birds, known as elephant birds, roamed the southern coast. Today, over 95 percent of the known lemur types are on the brink of extinction. Many other animals and plants on the island, such as the radiated tortoise and the beautiful rosewood tree, are also at risk of disappearing.

 The Center for Conservation in Madagascar supports the work of the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group  (MFG) through membership, research and salary support. MFG works to conserve the island’s animal and plant species through conservation, research, education and capacity building. 

Advancing Conservation Research: Meet Some of the Team

Karen Freeman, PhD
Fidy Rasambainarivo, DVM, PhD
Karen Freeman, PhD

Dr. Karen Freeman is the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group Director of Research.  Karen has worked for the MFG since 2004, when she moved to Madagascar to become the Program Director.  The Center has provided Karen’s salary and research support since 2008, when transitioned as the MFG Research Director.  

One of Karen’s greatest contributions has been drawing attention to the significant threat invasive plants pose to the ecological structure of Betampona and other Malagasy rainforests. She has enlisted and supervised graduate students’ research to evaluate different non-chemical methods to control guava and other highly invasives species.  Madagascar National Parks, the legal authority over Betampona, has now recognized the issue and is in discussions with the MFG to identify potential management strategies. 

In 2007, Karen initiated an ambitious program to restore Betampona’s Zone of Protection; a difficult proposition because the land is owned by local villagers.  Through meetings with village leaders and land-owners and providing requested commercial trees or crops as compensation for owners to not practice slash and burn agriculture, more than half of the ZOP has been planted with endemic trees.  In collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden, Karen has co-authored multiple grants that have expanded MFG’s commitment and capacity to ex-situ conservation of over 500 threatened endemic plant species of eastern Madagascar. 

Karen works tirelessly to build the MFG’s research program to document the diversity and distribution of Betampona’s fauna and flora, identify the multiple, often interrelated conservation threats, and evaluate suggested conservation strategies.  She has also co-authored and been awarded multiple prestigious grants, such as the IUCN SOS (Save our Species/lemurs) and the Darwin Initiative.   

The Center has been instrumental in expanding MFG’s research capacity by providing financial support for Karen’s salary and research budget.

Fidy Rasambainarivo, DVM, PhD

Dr. Fidy Rasambainarivo is the Center’s Affiliate Scientist and one of the first Malagasy wildlife veterinarians in Madagascar. In 2018, Fidy received a Ph.D. through a joint University of Missouri-St. Louis/WildCare Institute Fellowship. Following his graduation, Fidy was hired by the Center to oversee several important conservation research programs, including a chicken vaccination project aimed at decreasing bushmeat hunting by increasing chicken production, and a genetic management project on two critically endangered lemur species, Propithicus diadema (diademed sifaka) and Varecia variegata (black-and-white ruffed lemurs). In addition to his research, Fidy is working with a partner to establish Mahaliana, the first of its kind research and training center in Madagascar. The goal of Mahaliana is to advance the field of conservation research in Madagascar by enabling Malagasy scientists to conduct animal disease and genetic analyses in-country, and using it as an opportunity to train the next generation of scientists. To learn more about Mahaliana click here.

There is a saying in Malagasy:

"Izay mitambatra vato, izay misaraka fasika," which literally translates to "those who work together are as strong as a rock, and those who work alone are like the sand." Although the threats facing biodiversity and the efforts needed to conserve Madagascar's unique fauna and flora may seem overwhelming at first, we are starting to see a way forward thanks to the longstanding efforts of the Zoo for conserving the biodiversity of Madagascar through research, conservation action and most importantly capacity building. - Fidy

 A third scientist who receives support from this Center is Juliana Rasoma, Ph.D. Dr. Rasoma received her Ph.D. from the University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) in 2017, studying the ecology of the critically endangered radiated tortoise in one of the Madagascar National Parks locations. Dr. Rasoma is currently both a university lecturer and the MFG Research Coordinator. Dr. Rasoma assists Dr. Freeman in a number of areas, such as supervising research projects of graduate students from the University of Toamasina in Madagascar.

Work South of the Island

Through the work of the Institute for Conservation Medicine, in collaboration with the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Radiated Tortoise SAFE program, WildCare is helping the critically endangered radiated tortoise. 

See more about recent fieldwork to help the recovery of the critically endangered radiated tortoise in Madagascar.


Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Saint Louis University
University of Antananarivo
University of Tamatave
Washington University in St. Louis
Ivoloina Zoo