UWE Bristol students help create new sanctuary for endangered lemurs

Issue date: 03 August 2018

Lemur expedition to Madagascar

The future of some of the world's rarest lemurs is looking more secure thanks, in part, to fieldwork carried out by students from UWE Bristol. Their involvement has helped to persuade local community leaders in Madagascar to back plans to create a new 65,000 acre nature reserve on the island.

The Tsinjoarivo-Ambalaomby protected area is due to be created formally in 2020 and will help protect the critically endangered diademed sifaka (pictured) and Sibree's dwarf lemurs. Other threatened species within the reserve include the Betsileo bright-eyed tree frog and Ramanantsoa's dwarf chameleon, as well as two endemic orchid varieties.

Since 2016, an international team of students from UWE Bristol and the University of Antananarivo has taken part in annual expeditions in collaboration with Sadabe, a local conservation organisation. The aim of the field trips is to study the unique wildlife of the area and work with local communities to ensure its protection.

“It's very exciting how quickly everything has moved,” says Dr Mark Steer, a senior lecturer in the Department of Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol, and expedition leader. “When I first started visiting this area in 2015 there was very little prospect of gaining any formal protection for the forests. However, thanks to the amazing work that the staff at Sadabe have been doing, coupled with the willingness of the students to get stuck in and help make things happen, three years on we're seeing a complete reversal.”

Each year, the team travels for two weeks in April to one of the last remaining zones of the high-altitude forest, which once covered eastern parts of Madagascar's central plateau. Uncontrolled and unsustainable natural resource exploitation has threatened the integrity of the forest ecosystem.

The expedition provides an opportunity for students in the final year of their undergraduate degrees to learn about the practicalities of carrying out conservation work in the developing world. It also offers them help to find sustainable solutions that benefit the forest, as well as the local communities and wildlife that rely so heavily on it.

“Without the conservation efforts going on here, the forests and their diversity of species would already have gone,” said Jean-Luc Raharison, Executive Director of Sadabe. “We have been aiming to set up a protected area here for a long time, it is wonderful that the student expedition has had such a positive effect on the local communities, which are now fully in support of the proposals.”

'Sadabe' is the local name for the endemic diademed sifaka lemur, which is the largest of ten lemur species found at Tsinjoarivo. Its coat is white, black and orange – a unique combination among primates.

Approximately 20 UWE Bristol students partner with a team of Masters students studying Primatology and Anthropology at the University of Antananarivo. Students studying their final year on four BSc courses at UWE Bristol can opt to join the Madagascar field trip. These comprise BSc Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, BSc Integrated Wildlife Conservation, BSc Environmental Science, and BSc Biological Sciences.

Dr Steer and his team are now looking to work in greater depth with both Sadabe and the University of Antananarivo, by setting up Masters and PhD projects looking more in depth at sustainable solutions to current farming efforts on the island.

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