Madagascar news

Madagascar News

Shocking pictures show massive rise in illegal hunting of lemurs August 09

Conservation International have released a series of upsetting photographs of dead lemurs destined for restaurants in troubled Madagascar.

Lemurs are being killed for food in restaurantsThe organisation says the international community must work together to stop the sale of lemurs (which include the very rare crowned lemur (left) and the golden crowned sifaka) as bushmeat to restaurat owners who have been requesting the animals from

criminal gangs. Conservation International says 15 people have been arrested on the island for this offense. The country is suffering law and order problems after the recent political coup when the President was forced out. 

Conservation International president Dr Russ Mittermeier, one of the world’s leading authorities on lemurs, said: “The

slaughter of these delightful, gentle, and unique animals is simply unacceptable.  And it is not for subsistence, but rather to serve what is certainly a “luxury” market in restaurants of larger towns in the region.  More than anything else, these poachers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg, wiping out the very animals that people most want to see, and undercutting the country and especially local communities by robbing them of future ecotourism revenue.”

Conservation International says :”The withdrawal of international support has weakened environmental governance in the country and has created the perfect conditions for criminals to profit from the situation.”
© CI/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier

This has included illegal felling of trees in national parks for export to Asia, collection of animals for the pet trade, and now the hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Dr Mittermeier concluded: “This is what happens when the global community attempts to punish a nation’s leaders by cutting virtually all aid. We need to rethink the global response to political upheavals in the future, and not to place the greatest burden on those most in need.”

 Find out more about Conservation International at http://www.conservation.org/Pages/default.aspx

Madagascar map pinpoints wildlife hotspots May 08

Researchers have developed a new system to identify vital habitats in Madagascar which will help conservation projects, reports Writing in Science.
Co-author Claire Kremen, said: “Because it is the fourth largest island in the world, it’s got a lot of major ecosystems within it – it has desert areas, rainforests, high mountains, lowlands and it also has incredible marine resources as well.

Map showing actual and recommended protected areas in Madagascar

“There has also been a lot of diversification within the island of the plants and animals, so it’s not only a place where many species are unique, it is also a place that is very rich in biodiversity. The real problem is knowing what areas to protect.”
Researchers gathered existing data from Malagasy scientists on lemurs, geckos, frogs, ants, butterflies and plants.
“When you have more than 2,300 species you really need a computer to figure it out; what we were looking for was 10% of the country that could include all of those species.”
“Our results have shown that basing conservation on the needs of single species groups like butterflies just isn’t enough,” said team member David Lees, a butterfly researcher at London’s Natural History Museum.
“It is now feasible to map the complex web of life in the world’s richest wildlife areas to help guide tough conservation choices, and increase chances of survival.”
The findings surprised the researchers by highlighting habitats that had been overlooked in the past, such as coastal forests and central mountain ranges with small pockets of trees. The team has given the results to the Malagasy government in order to help it draw up its conservation strategy.

Madagascar slows deforestation April 08

Conservation groups and the Malagasy Government have revealed that deforestation has fallen eight-fold in Madagascar’s nature reserves since the 1990s.
 Satellite images show the rate has dropped in the protected parks from 0.8% to 0.1%.
 “We need to do a lot. But the important thing is that the trend is in the right direction, which is not the case for every country in the world,” James MacKinnon, who works for Conservation International in Madagascar, told Reuters news agency.
Deforestation across Madagascar has come down to 0.5 percent, MacKinnon added. The main causes of forest destruction in Madagascar are clearing trees for farms and burning wood to make charcoal. Conservationists and the Government aim to keep 6 million hectares (15 million acres) – 10% of the island – protected using a combination of tree-planting, community involvement and the extension of reserves.
“We have a unique biodiversity. Eighty percent of our species are endemic. Our neighbouring countries like Mauritius, the Seychelles or even Reunion cannot compete with us in this respect,” the environment and tourism minister, Harison Edmond Randriarimanana said.”We are going to sell this to tourists.”
Conservationist James MacKinnon said protection of the forests would also help to combat climate change. Scientists say deforestation in the tropics causes about 20 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions and preserving what is left of them is crucial because they soak up enormous amounts of the gas responsible for the bulk of global warming.slash and burn
“We think deforestation has been too neglected in the climate change debate,” Mr MacKinnon said.
Madagascar’s forests are small by comparison with those of Brazil or Indonesia, but have almost as much variety in their animals and plants.
“In terms of biodiversity, Madagascar is up there with both of those countries,” Mr MacKinnon added.
The news follows the announcement of new fines for farmers practising ‘tavy fire’ (slash and burn). Every year huge areasof Madagascar are engulfed in flames causing the loss of agricultural land, grasslands and forests.
 Madagascar’s Environment Minister also unveiled plans to educate the country’s mayors about the damage caused by the fires and hopes that reforestation efforts could see the replanting of 200million trees.
Satellite imagery is not just being used to monitor deforestation in Madagascar it is also being used to monitor fires – in a bid to stop further damage.
 The Fire Alert System website explains: FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 estimates 33,000 ha of forest and 839,000 ha of other wooded land was disturbed by fire in 2000. The impact of fires can be devastating and dramatic for humans and wildlife. It can contribute to shifting land cover types and modifying nutrient cycles. Most critically on this island famed for its biodiversity, tavy fire is the proximate cause behind deforestation and resulting loss of habitat.
 “In order to document fire effects on eco systems and assess the potential ecological impact, it is important to have real-time fire data. Since both rapid response and mitigation are the keys to wildlife suppression, the purpose of this system is to channel real-time satellite observations of wildfires to the different government agencies, NGOs and community organisations responsible for natural areas management. fire suppression and sustainable economic development. “

Meet Gollum – Newquay’s baby Ring-tailed lemur March 08

Newquay Zoo have just revealed in their latest newsletter that they received an extra special Christmas gift. Head Keeper Sam Harley said: “Christmas Day is the one day we are closed to the public. The zoo takes on a very different atmosphere and makes Christmas feel that little bit more special for the keepers. We take it in turns to come in during the day to care for and feed the animals. I had my suspicions that mum Jill was pregnant, and it was not until later that night that she gave birth. He is doing really well and spends most of his time holding onto mum, but it should not be too long before he starts to explore on his own. After much debate we have decided to name him Gollum.” 
Gollum Baby Ring-tailed Lemur

Photo Newquay Zoo

Baby Sifakas born March 08

Baby Kibongo (left FG Grandin/PZP/MNHM) and Loka (Philadelphia Zoo)

 Vincennes Zoo, Paris, has released a picture of it’s latest arrival – a baby Crowned Sifaka called Kibongo. The zoo, which is due to close in 2009 for three years of extensive renovations is one of only a handful in Europe to breed the rare lemur. The lemur was born on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile across the pond in America’s oldest zoo another baby sifaka is doing well. Philadelphia Zoo held a competition to name their sifaka which was born on February 8. 3,400 votes were cast in just seven days with 1,498 of them opting for Loka which means ‘prize’ in Malagasy. Loka is living with his parents in the zoo’s PECO Primate Reserve.

Zoo-funded project in Madagascar hit by cyclone March 08

A conservation project in Madagascar funded by the Isle Of Wight Zoo has been badly damaged by the cyclone.
Their website says that early indications are that the 210 kph winds on February 17 almost totally destroyed the AgroForestry station that plays an important role in training farmers to use sustainable farming techniques.
They explain: “Thankfully the Madagascar Fauna Group staff and their families all survived the cyclone, although some of their homes were badly damaged and crops across the island have been wiped out, causing food prices to double overnight. Work has already started to repair the damage but of course the extra costs involved with hiring additional staff and equipment will be considerable. The IOW Zoo will be holding special fundraising events to get the AgroForestry station back into operation after the disaster. If you would like to make a contribution towards the repairs please send it to us here at the zoo. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Isle of Wight Zoo’. “

Greater Bamboo Lemur arrives at zoo February 08

Cotswold’s Wildlife Park have annnounced the arrival of the critically endangered Greater Bamboo Lemur which will soon be moving into their Madagascar exhibit.
On their website they say: “Once widespread throughout the island of Madagascar, the Greater Bamboo Lemur can now only be found in a few scattered pockets on the southeast coast. Their voracious appetite for bamboo makes the Greater Bamboo Lemur Madagascar’s answer to the Giant Panda. They give birth to a single offspring once a year.
“The Greater Bamboo Lemur is currently being housed in our quarantine section in the Walled Garden, where it can be viewed by visitors. We are hoping our new male and the Park’s female will breed very soon.”

The Cotswold Wildlife Park also supports the Lac Alaotra Gentle Lemur conservation project.

The park spent a year designing and creating the Madagascar exhibit (pictured below) which includes Verraux’s Crowned Sifakas, a species found in just a handful of European zoos. Their site says: “Visitors are free to enter and follow the path through the enclosure to view these species at close range. By sticking to the path it is the visitors that are enclosed whilst the animals roam free!” Click on meet the animals for more details on what other Malagasy species the park has on show.

Giant Fossilised Madagascan frog discovered February 08


University College London have announced the discovery of an amazing 70 million year-old fossil in Madagascar. A team made up from UCL and New York’s Stony Brook University, believe the giant dinosaur-eating frog supports the theory that the island was once linked to India and South America.

Beelzebufo – meaning the frog from hell – is of a kind previously thought only to live in South America. As the picture shows it had a squat body, huge head and wide mouth. Scientists say it weighed 4kg with a body length of up to 40cm,

Professor Susan Evans (UCL Biosciences) said: “This frog, a relative of today’s Horned toads, would have been the size of a slightly squashed beach-ball, with short legs and a big mouth. If it shared the aggressive temperament and ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush tactics of living Horned toads, it would have been a formidable predator on small animals. Its diet would most likely have consisted of insects and small vertebrates like lizards, but it’s not impossible that Beelzebufo might even have munched on hatchling or juvenile dinosaurs. Our discovery of a frog strikingly different from today’s Madagascan frogs, and akin to the Horned toads previously considered endemic to South America, lends weight to the controversial paleobiogeographical model suggesting that Madagascar, the Indian subcontinent and South America were linked well into the Late Cretaceous. It also suggests that the initial spread of such beasts began earlier than that proposed by recent estimates.”

Frog breeding success February 08
Durrell’s Herpetology Department (Jersey) has successfully bred the Malagasy marbled rain frog (photo below: Jersey Zoo) for the first time. 
In the wild the frog breed in rain-filled pools, and have tadpoles that can metamorphose into froglets in less than three weeks. Malagasy marbled rain frog The right combination of environmental variables necessary to trigger breeding can vary considerably amongst species, and the challenge in captivity is to simulate those conditions necessary to trigger breeding.
A Durrell newsletter explains: “The marbled rain frog is being kept at Durrell as a model species, allowing staff to gain valuable skills in keeping and breeding species that exhibit different modes of reproduction and larval development, and to share our acquired knowledge with other institutions. This will ensure that we are as well-prepared as possible, when we bring species that require urgent ex-situ conservation action, into captivity. These latest breeding successes show that we are on the right track!”

Read about the Year of the Frog campaign on the Mad about Madagascar page.

Baby aye-aye born at Bristol Zoo
January 08

All babies are beautiful – well what about this one?

Raz, born on November 23rd, 2007, is thought to be only the second time a baby aye-aye has been hand reared on mainland UK. The first – also at Bristol Zoo Gardens – was in 2005, when keepers hand reared a female baby aye-aye called Kintana.
His name is short for Razafindranriatsimaniry, which is a Malagasy name meaning ‘son of a Prince or noble man who envies nobody’.
The youngster is being hand reared by a team of four dedicated staff who give him two-hourly feeds round the clock.

Keeper and overseer of small mammals, Caroline Brown, said: “We made the decision to hand rear this infant in advance of his birth because his mother has not had much success rearing her babies. So far he is doing well; he is gaining weight and seems strong.

“Aye-ayes are quite slow developing babies and require an intensive feeding regime. Currently we feed him every two hours, round the clock, but we begin to reduce the night feeds as he grows. He has just started to walk by himself but it will be a few months before we can wean him and return him to his mother, on show in Twilight World.”

Rare palm found January 08
A gigantic palm that flowers itself to death has been discovered in Madagascar. This previously unknown genus is entirely new to science and has been named Tahina spectabilis.

Tahina’ is Malagasy for “to be protected” or “blessed” and is a given name of Anne-Tahina Metz, the daughter of the discoverer of the palm. ‘Spectabilis’ is Malagasy for spectacular.

The palm has a huge trunk which towers over 18m high and enormous fan leaves which are 5m in diameter – the most massive palm ever to be found in Madagascar. It has an unusual and spectacular lifecycle; growing to dizzying heights before the stem tip converts into a giant terminal inflorescence and bursts into branches of hundreds of tiny flowers. Each flower is capable of being pollinated and developing into fruit and soon drips with nectar and is surrounded by swarming insects and birds. The nutrient reserves of the palm become completely depleted as soon as it fruits and the entire tree collapses and dies a macabre death. Xavier Metz, a Frenchman who manages a cashew plantation nearby, and his family were walking in a remote area of north-western Madagascar when they stumbled across the giant palm with its huge pyramidal flowering structure sprouting out of the tip. They had never seen anything like it before.
Leaf fragments were sent to the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for DNA analysis, where it was confirmed that the palm was not just a new species but an entirely new genus within the tribe Chuniophoeniceae.
Madagascar is home to more than 10,000 plant species and 90% of Madagascar’s plants occur nowhere else in the world. The country has a highly diverse palm flora with over 170 known species, all but six of which are endemic. Madagascar’s native palms are of enormous economic and biological importance. Not only are they used for food, house building, crafts and medicines, most are found in no other part of the world, they are a part of Madagascar’s great natural heritage and many are becoming increasingly rare.
The palm is so massive that it can even be seen in Google Earth.
Details taken from the BGCI website. Botanic Gardens Conservation International is a charity set up in 1987 to link botanic gardens as a co-operating global network for effective plant conservation. It now links over 2500 institutions in over 120 countries, all working together to preserve and promote plant diversity for people and the planet. You can become a friend of BGCI for £10 a year.

Tortoise smugglers in Madagascar caught January 2008

A haul of 300 seized stolen tortoises from a house after a tip-off may be the largest in the world, conservationists say.
A Nigerian man was arrested with 300 of the reptiles, including eight of the rarest – the ploughshare from Madagascar. He faces up to 10 years if he is convicted.

Collectors could have netted as much as $200,000 (£100,000) for them in exotic pet markets.
“Of course I am very happy that the tortoises are still in Madagascar,” says Hasina Randriamanampisoa of the Durrell Wildlife Trust. But on the other hand I am very frustrated because it means they are still leaving the country.”
The ploughshare has been stolen – they are prized for their beautiful shells- and hunted to the point of extinction. There are less than a thousand left alive.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust say the ploughshare (known locally as the Angonoka) will be extinct within 10 years if they continue to disappear at the same rate.
“Why do people do it? If you’re talking about Malagasy people they are poor, so they can easily be attracted by big bucks from the smugglers,” says Mr Randriamanampisoa. “As far as foreigners are concerned, well I can imagine, some people are so rich they just want something rare in their possession. It has something to do with their mind, to possess something that no-one else has.”

An attempt to run a breeding programme in Madagascar to save the ploughshare collapsed

If buyers continue to exist, then collectors will continue to exist in Madagascar

Felicitee Rejo Fienena, Government off

when 75 of them were stolen one night in 1999 – The haul was worth £1.5million on the black market.
Anson Wong, of Malaysia, gained access to about 37 of the stolen ploughshares. As part of Operation Chameleon Wong was lured to a meeting with PacRim, an undercover business set up by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He offered them two of the tortoises and was arrested as he stepped off the plane in Mexico.

He was sentenced in 2001 to six years (71 months) incarceration and a fine of $60,000 (£30,000) by a San Franscisco Federal court after pleading late yesterday guilty to 40 felony charges stemming from 1998 and 1992 indictments for trafficking in some of the most rare and endangered reptile species in the world. Government press release

Wong ran the biggest global animal dealer and smuggling operation that has ever been broken. He dealt with creatures protected by Cites including the extremely rare Madagascar Tree Boa and the island’s radiated tortoise as well as komodo dragons, alligators, turtles and opythons. Trade in these rare and endangered species threatened with extinction is either forbidden or strictly regulated.

Helicopter landing (BBC)

A Madagascan Tree Boa

Why would anyone want to keep dangerous creatures like Komodo dragons and Madagascan ground boas at home? Well while art collectors prize Van Goghs or Picassos, some people – on the wrong side of the law – prefer exotic, endangered reptiles. And they will pay big money for them.
Even worse, 90 percent of smuggled animals die in transit.

U.S Customs Today reports: “They’re packed carelessly, they starve, they die of thirst, crush or eat each other, or are left hot or freezing on tarmacs waiting for planes. Customs inspectors have found tortoises, geckos, and chameleons packed together so tightly that they suffocated. They’ve seen snakes and frogs forced into CD sleeves, sandwich bags, Jiffy bags, and socks.”

US Federal Agent Ernest Mayer says, “the only way to really address or organise the smuggling, criminal rings that were smuggling the animal in was to set up an undercover business, a sting operation to catch them in the act.”
Operation Chameleon has caught 26 animal smugglers and traffickers from six countries. All have been successfully prosecuted.

Fortunately many of the stolen tortoises were found and by December 2004 there were 224 captive-bred juveniles aged about 8 or 9 (big enough to avid being a bush pig’s dinner!) and ready for the release project.

Dr Joanna Durbin, Project Leader for Durrell in 2006 said: ‘We released 20 animals for the first time last year and they have adapted excellently to their new home and have been putting on weight. The release was an extremely important event for the local villagers who saw it as a home coming for the tortoises. When we arrived at the release site the residents of nearby Baly village gave us a tumultuous welcome, putting on a spectacular party to celebrate.’

Baby Fossas born August 2007 / June 2007

Staff at Newquay Zoo, England and San Diego Zoo, USA are celebrating the arrivals of baby fossas
Stewart Muir, Director at Newquay said: “The cub was born six weeks ago and is expected to spend another month or so in the den before he starts to venture outside. When we decided to microchip the baby on Monday everyone wanted to help. We called in our vet and carefully planned the timing and how we would do this. If you leave it too long before you microchip it can be all teeth and claws as the cub would be much more aware and find it stressful. But doing this at six weeks is perfect as the baby is not really aware of what is happening and so not stressed, and it is safer for the keepers as teeth and claws are not a problem at this age. It literally only takes two minutes to sex the baby and microchip. We are very lucky to hold this species as there are only around 100 in zoos worldwide and we are one of only 6 zoos in the UK to have them. This species is part of a managed breeding programme.”

The Newquay baby fossa has been named ‘Geoff’ in memory of a retired member of staff Geoff Gerry. There is footage of the cub’s microchipping and first appearance on You Tube.

At San Diego Zoo, four fossas were born, but despite the zoo’s intervention only one survived, a male called Isa, a Malagasy word for the number one.
Nicki Boyd, animal car supervior at San Diego Zoo’s children’s zoo, says on the blog: “The Children’s Zoo keepers and I have been tasked with the awesome job of having to train little Isa, the male fossa pup in our nursery. We began visits with him when he was about five weeks old. The first visits were similar to holding a new human baby who is so uncoordinated and helpless. We wanted to start early with Isa to increase the bonding potential. As far as we know, no one has every used a fossa in educational programs and we want to set ourselves up to succeed. There are 47 fossas in managed care facilities, so the likeliness that he will need to go off some day and breed is high. But we want to teach the world about fossas as much as we can.”

Follow the fossa’s progress on the San Diego Zoo’s blog.

Classified as Endangered, the Fossa is the largest carnivore in Madagascar and resembles an elongate cat in appearance. There are less than 2,500 left in the wild. They spend most of their time up in the trees and are active day and night. The young are initially blind and helpless, opening their eyes after 15 days. Fossa’s feed on a wide variety of small mammals, birds and reptiles. In forest areas of Madagascar lemurs can make up more than 50% of their diet. The Fossa’s long tail provides balance for pursing this agile prey through the trees and pairs may cooperate to catch larger prey.

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