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, including 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. As recently as 2,500 years ago, lemurs the size of gorillas roamed the island, and 10-foot-tall birds, known as elephant birds, roamed the southern coast. Today, over 95% 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, Ph.D.
Fidy Rasambainarivo, DVM, Ph.D.

Karen Freeman, Ph.D.

Dr. Karen Freeman is the Executive Director of the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group. Dr. Freeman has worked for the MFG since 2004, when she moved to Madagascar to become the Program Director. Since that time, her role has grown from Director of Research to Executive Director. The Center has helped fund her salary and research since 2008. 

One of Dr. Freeman'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 invasive 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, Dr. Freeman 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. 

Research completed in 2021 through Saint Louis University's Geospatial Institute confirmed that the Zone of Protection program has been successful in its goal, as forest coverage in the Reserve's Zone of Protection increased by 28% in the mixed forest category and a remarkable 59% in the evergreen forest category. This is particularly notable because this is in marked contrast to the significant deforestation that is happening throughout most of the rest of Madagascar.

Fidy Rasambainarivo, DVM, Ph.D.

Dr. Fidy Rasambainarivo is the Center’s Affiliate Scientist and is one of the first Malagasy wildlife veterinarians in Madagascar. In 2018, he received a Ph.D. through a joint University of Missouri-St. Louis and WildCare Institute Fellowship. Following his graduation, Dr. Rasambainarivo 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 — diademed sifaka (Propithicus diadema) and black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata). In addition to his research, Dr. Rasambainarivo and his co-director Liz Toomey established Mahaliana, the first of its kind research and training center in Madagascar. Their goal is to advance the field of conservation research in Madagascar by enabling Malagasy scientists to conduct animal disease and genetic analyses in-country, 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

Juliana Rasoma, Ph.D.

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

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



Aberdeen University (UK)

Association Vahatra

Atsinanana Region, Madagascar

Canberra University

Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos

Chester University (UK)


CISCO (School authorities), Madagascar

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund

Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, Kent University

Global Environment Facility

IUCN Environmental Law Centre

IUCN Invasive Species Specialist Group


James Cook University

Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group Mahaliana

Madagascar Institute for Conservation of Tropical Environments

Madagascar National Parks Madagascar Voakajy

Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Madagascar

Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Madagascar

Missouri Botanical Garden

MRSN Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali

Princeton University

Queensland Department of Agriculture (Australia

Saint Louis University

Stellenbosch University (SA)

Tany Meva

United Nations Environment Programme

University of Antananarivo

University of Toamasina

Washington University-Living Earth Collaborative

Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center-UMSL

World Commission on Environmental Law