Thursday, September 24, 2009

Duke Lemur Center helps lemurs in Madagascar as well as those here in NC

The on-going political crisis in Madagascar is impacting more than just the human element in that unique island country. The forests and animals there are suffering as well (see a letter published in Nature by DLC researcher Meredith Barret et al). Instability and chaos that are by-products of political turbulence in Madagascar, as anywhere, will always provide opportunities for those who seek to take advantage of the situation. In this particular case, precious hardwoods are being illegally cut and stolen from some of Madagascar’s protected areas, to be sold for enormous profits.

The removal of the trees is in itself a regrettable loss, but such activities are often accompanied by killing or capturing of animals for food or trade. To make matters worse, attitudes of trespass into protected areas can be difficult to change once started, leading to a domino effect of environmental damage which is tough to slow down. In the end the entire ecosystem suffers.

Duke Lemur Center supporters wanted to help. Their dollars are making a difference. The Reserve of Betampona, a project site of the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) of which the Lemur Center is a Managing Member, was having problems with increased levels of illegal cutting and other illicit activities in the reserve. The Lemur Center worked with its donors to direct support to the urgent need of increased protection efforts at Betampona.

But what exactly does it mean to “increase protection”? The first and most obvious step is to increase patrols in the reserve by MFG Conservation Agents. Although they have no true authority to do more than report infractions, the mere presence of personnel in the reserve is a strong deterrent. Infractions are down, although not yet completely eliminated. Still, habitat and animals in Betampona are safer because donors and the DLC are working directly with the people in Madagascar.

The most important path to protecting Betampona is to convince the local people that it is in their interest to maintain the forest in its natural state. Without local support, there is no long-term solution. People are the key. To this end, part of the funds donated to Duke Lemur Center were used to help our partner, the MFG increase funding for reforestation activities, working in collaboration with villagers in the area surrounding the reserve. This collaboration means that there is more contact and interaction with local people, which builds trust and relationships.

There are now three tree nurseries around Betampona which are tended by villagers. They receive MFG funding for tending to the nurseries and then planting out the trees in a ‘buffer zone’ around the reserve. Education is another way to reach out to local people. The MFG-sponsored Saturday Class program at nearby Ambodiriana village offers educational advantages to local students. The program stresses environmental education as well as reinforcing core subjects. Discussions are underway to expand the Saturday Class program around the reserve.

The generosity of Duke Lemur Center donors is having a great impact on some of the most endangered forests on the planet. You can help, too.

Make a gift on-line at or send a check to Duke Lemur Center/3705 Erwin Rd. /Durham, NC 27705/

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