By Dr. Jacques Rakotondranary, La Mananara Site Manager

Dr. Jacques Rakotondranary in the field at La Mananara.

In April, the real work began creating and implementing comprehensive conservation programs at Wildlife Madagascar’s field sites. Early in the month, I arrived at La Mananara, Wildlife Madagascar’s site in the central highlands just north of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital. I was accompanied by two students from the University of Antananarivo, Koloina Rakotoarivelo and Rojo Rakotoarisoa, both of whom recently graduated with Master’s degrees in Primatology from the Department of Anthropobiology and Sustainable Development. Their prior experience working with lemurs in rainforests has allowed them to easily adapt to work life at La Mananara.

While there are a lot of conservation priorities, one of the most crucial steps for our work is to establish transects (straight-line trails) that are necessary for accessing the entire forest and for properly implementing our botanical and wildlife monitoring programs. These transects will be connected via pre-existing trails that were previously used by tourists (back when the La Mananara Ecolodge was operating) and used by the local communities for passing through the forest, connecting villages along the eastern and western zones of the Anjozorobe-Angavo protected area, which includes La Mananara.

Establishing transects (straight-line trails).

Following our Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Tim Eppley’s recommendation, we created a map of four parallel transects running north to south through the La Mananara forest. We then recruited three local guides (William, Roger, and Sidonie) to help establish these transects as close to the predetermined locations that we had mapped. Our first transect is 5.5 kilometers long, and is now used daily by Koloina and Rojo as they search for and work on habituating lemurs, specifically the indri and diademed sifaka groups. This work is critical for our wildlife and habitat monitoring, as well as all future research carried out at La Mananara. These transect lines also double as a camera trapping grid, helping us to effectively monitor the area’s more cryptic wildlife, particularly carnivores like fosa and Malagasy civet that may be present in the area.

During our first few weeks in the forest, the establishment of these transect lines has already helped us to understand the degree of negative pressures on the forest, many of which were not previously known. Specifically, we have located areas where the forest is being exploited, and unfortunately, even observed two local people cutting trees! They fled as soon as they saw us, and we immediately reported the incident to the local authority named Mano, who is the president of the Fokontany (that is, a district sometimes made up of several communities). According to Mano, based on his experience, occasional human presence in the forest leads to a decrease in natural resource exploitation, so he believes that the permanent presence of Wildlife Madagascar will be very helpful in protecting this critical forest habitat and its wildlife.

Unfortunately the team encountered some logging activity.

Despite that unfortunate incident, these first few weeks have also allowed us to observe the true beauty of this incredibly rare central highland rainforest habitat. We have recorded many stunning chameleon and frog species, curious lemurs, and had many positive interactions with local villagers, who have sold us products such as rice, fish, vegetables, fruits, etc. Interacting, discussing, and engaging in activities with the villagers is a great way to integrate into the site and its surrounding communities, and will lead to positive conservation outcomes.

Woolly lemur
Leaf gecko

We even recently hosted a Master’s student from Germany named Vincent Kraneis. Vincent just wrapped up a research project on frogs at Lavasoa-Ambatotsirongorongo, a series of isolated forest fragments in southeastern Madagascar. Even though he only visited us for three days, he was impressed by the beauty of La Mananara and expressed a desire to return soon, perhaps as a continuation of his amphibian research.

Vincent Kraneis on the new bridge the team built.

Lastly, these three weeks of observations have led me to reflect on the urgent needs of the site, and thankfully they are what we have already determined to be our next steps. These include surveys of recent logging and natural forest product exploitation, as well as evaluating the behavioral responses of vulnerable animals to human presence (for example, fear/fleeing responses are a potential indicator of illegal hunting) throughout the forest are a critical priority. Additionally, we need to assess the socio-economic and food situations among households within the adjacent villages around La Mananara. This information is crucial for further developing an effective program to conserve the forest habitat and its wildlife.

Upon personal reflection, La Mananara is a remarkable site, and I am impressed by its biodiversity. This site deserves protection and our collective conservation efforts, and strengthening our collaboration with local villagers will help at every step. I am dedicated to these efforts and implementing the necessary programs for the conservation of La Mananara’s natural beauty and biodiversity.

Forest in La Mananara.

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