Friday, March 26, 2010
Final Installment of Duke Lemur Center's recent visit to Madagascar
by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Center's Conservation Coordinator
Friday 2/12 – Fly out of Tana early this morning for Tamatave, with a quick stop in Ile St. Marie, a small island off the east coast of Madagascar. St. Marie was a major Indian Ocean pirate hangout back in the early 1700s, but that is another story. I am surprised that the flight is full out of Tana, and many seem to be affiliated with recently arrived mining interests in Madagascar, in particular a developing nickel/cobalt mine at Ambatovy, near Moramanga. The mined material will be sent as a slurry from the east central mining site, via a 200 km pipeline which will end in the port city of Tamatave. Tamatave is where many of the mine personnel are based. There the slurry will be processed and shipped out by boat. About a dozen of those on the flight are Filipinos, who are skilled labor brought in to work in the mine.
Coming back to Tamatave is always a pleasure, as it was our home for more than 15 years while we worked at Parc Ivoloina on behalf of MFG and DLC. It still feels like home. I am coming to Tamatave to participate in the inauguration of the newly finished dining facility and kitchen at the Ivoloina Training Center (ITC), and to meet with MFG Project Manager An Bollen on particular issues. The dining facility/kitchen facility is the last piece of the ITC puzzle, complimenting the meeting building, laboratory, and dormitory which are already completed and functioning. In fact, a training of school district officials at the ITC, in environmental education was just finishing up.
After checking in to the hotel, a quick visit to the in town office of the MFG makes it clear that the MFG’s work in Madagascar is continuing to evolve. For example, the natural history library there is now the largest in the Tamatave region, and is quite a resource for students of all ages. The office is capably managed by Nicole Vally, and the library by Romina Raharimampionana. French national Charlotte Gressin who is living in Tamatave is helping out with a variety of education and graphics projects. Impressive to see all the changes and capable new personnel since my last visit here, almost 2 years ago!
Met some with An, and MFG vice chair Ingrid Porton who is presently in town.
Saturday 2/13 – The day of the inauguration of the ITC dining area/kitchen building. Inaugurations are a big deal in Madagascar, and this particular one is no exception. We arrive at the ITC around 8:00 in the morning as preparations are underway. Many local villagers and elders are present for the inauguration – such events are opportunities to strengthen relations with local people, which is always important for conservation projects.
Low level government officials trickle in through the early hours, and when everyone expected is present the speeches begin on the temporary stage constructed for the occasion, and decorated with eucalyptus branches, and yellow alamanda flowers. The speeches are mostly in Malagasy, with a smattering of French. An gives her speech in Malagasy which is met with cheers and applause. My speech has to be in French with only a bit of Malagasy thrown in here and there. Master of ceremonies, Bernard Iambana is kind enough to translate my speech into Malagasy. The speeches thankfully wind down as shady spots become increasingly more difficult to find for those in the audience. The sun is blaring relentlessly in the 95% humidity, but better that than rain. Many of us vazaha are more than a little bit pink by the end of the day.
After the speeches is the main event of any inauguration in Madagascar, the killing of a bull and dividing up the meat between attendees. This whole process is interwoven with “kibary” by the village elders – traditional speeches to the ancestors, in a back and forth fashion, from one group of elders to another. Eventually the portions of divided meat are distributed to families, and a small platform table is constructed to hold the rice and meat offering to the ancestors. A pre-prepared post, sharpened at the tip, the “fisokana” is sunk into the ground near the building, and eventually the horns of the bull are mounted on the sharp tip of the fisokana. I should also mention that to promote the general good mood, rum and betsa-betsa (sugar cane beer) are distributed liberally throughout the day.
Finally, the ceremony ends with an enormous feast of more rice than can possibly be imagined, and of course fresh beef. All is spread out on newly cut travelers palm leaves, and little by little disappears into hungry mouths. Proud moment concerning the rice served at the ceremony is that it was entirely rice grown by SRI intensive rice paddy production on the Ivoloina Station property – no “tavy” or slash and burn rice (which is traditionally used).
After 7 hours the inauguration is complete.
Sun. 2/14 – A day off! Today is a time to spend with old friends in Tamatave. An Bollen has a BBQ at her house in the evening with friends and MFG staff. A lovely evening of good food, (including brochettes from inauguration beef), and very good company. The MFG staff made a nice presentation of flowers and a thank you speech for Ingrid, for her constant and tireless efforts on behalf of the MFG. And the same for An in honor of her dedication and hard work for MFG. Bernard gave a very moving speech.
Monday 2/15 – What a pleasant surprise this morning when as I am waiting for the MFG truck to leave the office for Parc Ivoloina, our old colleague and friend Chef Razokiny appears at the door. Chef Razokiny was the Eaux et Foret Chef de Station Forestier Ivoloina when Andrea and I first arrived in Tamatave in 1987. It was in large part due to our confidence and trust in Chef Razokiny that we felt that a Conservation Center at Ivoloina had potential, and was worth pursuing. He was a Chef of the old school sort who believed in hard work, and village relations, and just in general was quite strict (in later years he was known by the workers as “the colonel”!). When we first arrived at Ivoloinain ‘87 the entire staff was only Chef Razokiny and one animal keeper, Noel. Now between Ivoloina, Betampona, and the in town office, MFG has 35 Malagasy employees. Ivoloina and Betampona have come a long way since those early years, and the in- town office did not even exist until years later!
At any rate, it is wonderful to see Chef Razokiny, and chat for a while. He had eventually been transferred by Eaux et Foret at his own request to Parc National Marojejy, near Andapa, in the northeast. He is originally from that area, and wanted to return there for his last years of service. Chef Razokiny is retired now, and the reason for his being in Tamatave was to visit family.
Finally the MFG truck leaves for Ivoloina. It has been almost 2 years since I have visited the Station and the Parc and I am anxious to see all. Saturday was spent entirely at the Training Center, so today is reserved for the Station’s other aspects. First stop is the Model Station where improved farming techniques are demonstrated, including the SRI intensive rice cultivation in paddies. Also in the Model Station are vegetable plots (techniques for growing on slopes), a wide variety of fruiting trees and vines, and commercial products such as vanilla, cloves, pepper, and coffee. Any and all alternatives to slash and burn are grown on the plot. Also at the Model Station is the expansive tree nursery, containing both native trees and useful introduced species.
Next stop is some of the Station trails which have been put in place for visitors. As I walk the trails I also get a chance to inspect many of the plantations of native trees that we had made over the years. Exciting to see those trees doing well and getting ever larger. A returning natural forest ….
Next visit is to the Environmental Education Center, which for Andrea and I was the first addition outside of the Zoo itself – that was our first priority. The Center is in wonderful shape, and jam packed with fascinating exhibits with items from extinct elephant bird eggs, to whale bones. The Center now also includes a covered open air classroom, where the successful Saturday Class is held each week. Long time MFG employee Rostand showed me around the Education complex.
Finally I make it to the Zoo itself. Is good to see old friends, both human and animal. Noel still works there and is joined by long timer Georges among others. The Zoo looks well kept, and the animals (mostly lemurs of course!) look good as well. All very rewarding to see. Keeping a project going in a positive direction in Madagascar is not easy, but those that came after Andrea and I, first Karen and Gareth, and now An Bollen, along with the Malagasy staff, have done an amazing job. Ivoloina has evolved into a multi-faceted conservation center which is impacting lives and conservation on many fronts.
An is at the Parc this day as well, along with Charlotte carrying out a training with the staff on project evaluation technique. Always at work on something! She does also find time at the end of the day to meet and discuss some pressing issues.
Another good day.
Tuesday 2/16 – My last day in Tamatave. An and Ingrid are busy most of the day interviewing replacement candidates for Ainga, the capable Ivoloina Education Coordinator. Ainga has done a great job in his position at Ivoloina, but is moving on to other opportunities.
I squeeze in some souvenir shopping, then later meet with Yves Ravalison to try and help An find a solution to the stalled project of an electricity generating waterwheel at Ivoloina. The wheel structure is partially finished, but is at risk from floods at times of cyclonic rains (which generally occur several times a year). Not a straight forward dilemma, as is often the case in Mada.
Say my goodbyes to all, and fly out on evening flight for Tana. More familiar faces along the way.
Wednesday 2/17 My last day in Madagascar, but flight out is at night, so I have all day for meetings, etc. First met with Missouri Botanical Garden staff Chris, Jeannie, and Christian to review my site visits. Visits to both Makirovana, and to Montagne des Francais were very well coordinated and facilitated by MBG, and I am very grateful to them for their help. I got a very good exposure to both the natural and human aspects of the areas. Both sites are certainly worthy of additional protection. Many thanks MBG.
Another meeting was with Benjamin Andriamihaja of MICET. We discussed other priority conservation areas around the country in need of help, and the logistical requirements of becoming involved in on-the-ground conservation in Madagascar. It can be a very complicated and lengthy process, as I am already quite aware.
Had an early dinner with our veterinary trainees, Haja and Hery. Nice to see them a last time, and especially pleasing to hear that Hery has just received an offer of a part time position as an assistant to the primary veterinarian at Parc Tsimbazaza, in Tana. This is a great opportunity for Hery, and will hopefully be helpful to Tsimbazaza, which is Madagascar’s “national” zoo.
Finally head out to Ivato airport for my flight back to the US, via Marseilles and Paris. Is always with mixed feelings about leaving Madagascar – nice to think of being reunited with Andrea and Alena, but a bit like leaving home again. Seems strange even to be traveling alone, at the airport after passing through so many times “en famille”.
My time in Madagascar has gone very well, no cancelled flights and no cyclones! Lots to think about now and to consider in terms of DLC involvement in an on-the-ground conservation sense. I can’t help but think about how very long, and how much hard work it took to transform Ivoloina and Betampona into viable conservation projects. And the continual effort that it takes on behalf of the dedicated MFG staff to keep those projects hitting on all cylinders. But maybe now is the time to expand DLC’s conservation ambitions beyond our participation in the MFG (which we will always continue to support). One thing is certain, the need for effective conservation action in Madagascar has never been so urgent.