Thursday, 2 August 2012
Animal Keeper Grace’s trip to Madagascar
I have just returned from a three week trip to north-west Madagascar, spending half the time in the dry forest region of Mahajunga and the rest off the coast at the Marine site, Nosey Be.
My role was a team leader and student assistant for the 16 A-level students who attended the trip from Peter Symonds College, Winchester. The trip was organised by a company called Operation Wallacea who specialise in scientific research expeditions all over the world helping to carry out research on species presence and abundance.
We travelled from the capital city, Antananarivo to the region of Mahajunga in the north west of the island (15 hour jeep journey) . It was extremely dry and around 29C every day. We stayed in a satellite forest camp called Matesdroy which was newly set up as a research station (so no one had previously carried out any research there) so was ground-breaking science!
Whilst we were at Matesdroy camp for 5 days, we discovered a new species of snake (so hot off the press- it is yet to be named!) We also discovered footage from pre-set camera traps that a species of small carnivore was present at the site (that was not previously recorded there) which is very similar to a Civet but lives such an elusive life- we hardly know anything about its ecology.
Just some of the species present at the site that I was lucky enough to see included; Corquels sifaka, Brown lemurs, Mongoose lemurs and nocturnal mouse lemurs as well as an outstanding array of Herpetofauna; including chameleons, iguanas, day geckos and snakes each of so many varieties. The leaf-tailed geckos were a particular favourite.
The bird-life was also very diverse, from the Paradise flycatchers in the forest to a Madagascan Fish Eagle which we were incredibly lucky to spot whilst searching for crocodiles in a nearby lake. Other than simply admiring the wildlife; one of our main research aims was to carry out forest plotting- which we did on a daily basis. This involves measuring the circumference and estimating the height of a plot of trees as well as estimating percentage canopy cover in order to give a good estimate of the amount of carbon present in the forest. The short term plan is to gather as much of this data as possible and present it to the Malagasy government in order for them to buy under the Carbon Credits scheme to protect the forest from being cut down.
Deforestation is a massive problem in Madagascar (as I found out after driving through miles of desert- which was once forest). The deforestation is so vast that it has devastated many populations of rare and endangered species, particularly lemurs and reptiles as they struggle dispersing between remaining fragments of forests. Operation Wallacea also supports the creation of forest corridors to join the remaining fragments of forest together. It would be fantastic if all our hard-work pays off and the site is granted special protection.
The second week was spent doing effectively the same- carrying out species abundance surveys but at a marine site off the west coast on the island of Nosey Be. The island is also quite a popular tourist destination and much of the coral reef ecosystem has been badly degraded (similar to the forest) due to the removal of the protective mangrove habitat for development and over-fishing. Equally the marine life was equally as endemic and fascinating. Highlights from Nosey Be included brightly coloured vibrant Parrot fish and the clown fish hiding out in their anemones homes.
Overall I had a fantastic trip- the whole experience was amazing and it was good to be part of such useful important conservation research which has really opened my eyes (and hopefully many others) to how badly we need to help conserve areas such as Mahajunga and Nosey Be before all their unique endemicity and biodiversity is lost forever.