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Conservation success story: reforesting Madagascar

Posted on: 17 August, 2023

Our ongoing conservation work in Northwest Madagascar has seen us successfully establish 15,000 tree seedlings this year, in the Sahamalaza Iles Radama National Park. It hasn’t been a straightforward achievement though, with innovation, partnerships and trial and error playing a key part in this success.

Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, but it suffers from exceptionally high levels of habitat loss. A rapidly growing population and economic reliance on subsistence farming cause deforestation, increasing the pressure on already threatened species.

We’ve worked in Madagascar since 2006, restoring forests through active reforestation, monitoring biodiversity and studying how local people are using the land. We support communities to help them use land sustainably and create conservation jobs through our work. We’re also developing a field station in Ankarafa Forest which will facilitate more research and conservation work in the area, helping to protect Critically Endangered blue-eyed black lemurs and other threatened species which inhabit these remaining forests.

Early attempts at reforestation weren’t successful. At first, trees were planted in areas of degraded grassland but struggled to survive as the soil is not very fertile and the landscape is exposed and dry. Through extensive research, we identified which species grow well in this challenging environment and learned how to look after and protect them effectively, before and after planting. We also planted at the edges of existing forested areas instead, where the microclimates of the adjacent forest provide some shelter to protect the young trees in their early stages of growth. It’s hoped this will eventually reconnect separated forests which have isolated animal populations within them.

Joining the pockets of forest will allow these animals to find each other and interbreed, diversifying the gene pool of species. A varied genetic pool improves species’ ability to adapt to changing environments, disease and other threats — decreasing the likelihood of significant population decline and extinction.

Crucial to the success has also been the creation of community tree nurseries in villages around the remaining forest fragments. We have partnered with The Lemur Conservation Association (AEECL) to set up these nurseries, which have created jobs for local people, training them to work as nursery technicians to grow high-quality seedlings for reforestation efforts. By providing supplementary conservation-focused income to local people, we hope to show that forests are more valuable when they are protected, than when they are exploited for their timber and land, thereby increasing the incentive to conserve them and their resident wildlife.

As well as reconnecting forests and their wildlife in Sahamalaza, we’re undertaking monitoring of lemurs and other wildlife so that we can assess the status of these highly threatened species. Importantly, we're also working in local communities to understand their farming practices and resource requirements, so that we can work with them to help lighten their footprint on the landscape and conserve the remaining forests.

Our two blue-eyed black lemurs, which are among the top 25 most threatened primate species in the world, are still being cared for at the now closed Bristol Zoo Gardens in Clifton. The pair will eventually move over to Bristol Zoo Project to join our other lemur species, ring-tailed, ruffed, mongoose and gentle lemurs, which you can see on your next visit.

A mongoose lemur hanging off a rope, hanging on with its back legs and one arm.

Book your tickets to Bristol Zoo Project now — book the day before your visit or earlier for 10% off.

Bristol Zoo Project is part of Bristol Zoological Society, a conservation and education charity. Every visit supports our conservation work in the UK and around the world.