A day in the life of a Catawba University researcher in Madagascar!

We are big fans of Madagascar, that may be clear. However, not everything is wonderful in this country. One of the things that we haven’t talked about enough, is the great poverty and its consequences for nature, among other things. When we joined a group of researchers from Catawba University, we were thoroughly confronted with the facts. Read on to see what we were so shocked about.

Research in the Ankarafantsika National Park

We are heading to Mahajanga, a city on the west coast of Madagascar. Along the way, we pass through the Ankarafantsika National park, which we visited earlier. On a whim, we decide to take a look at the other campsite. This campsite is run by local women (women’s association EZAKA).When we arrive the campsite is full of tents. In a small building that serves as a restaurant, young people are reading and chatting with each other. When we step inside, we are welcomed by an American guy. His name is Luke Dollar and he is a professor at Catawba University. He is doing research for National Geographic and has been coming to Madagascar for more than twenty years.

We start talking and Luke tells us that he is currently researching animals here in Ankarafantsika with a group of American and Malagasy students. He invites us to join his team for a day. Of course, we don’t say no to that and so, after our visit to Mahajanga, we drive back to the Ankarafantsika National Park.

Read everything you need to know about the Ankarafantsika park in this travel guide!

Students from Catawba university

This time, we are being welcomed by Kelly, a PhD student researching the Western Falanouc (Eupleres major). This is an animal that has only been recorded a few times in the world and has never been caught alive. “The Western Falanouc is so difficult to capture or photograph that hardly anything is known about it. There are less than a dozen publications on the animal and little is know about the natural history of the species.” She explains.

Luke’s other students are slowly dripping in, coming back from inspecting the cameras. It is a colourful group, the American students talk a lot, while the Malagassi students observe everything a bit more shy. And then there is Solo, a Malagassi guide who has been working with Luke for almost twenty years. He jokes and constantly has a big smile on his face. Solo is among other things, responsible for the communication with the local women’s association.

Campsite of the women’s association EZAKA

When it starts to get dark, plates and dishes with food appear on the table. It smells delicious and soon everyone is eating around the table. While some extra fish and meat are put on the table, everyone shares his or her highlight of the day. After dinner, we stay at the table for a long time to play games and talk to Kelly and Solo about Madagascar.

The campsite and its restaurant were set up by twenty-six women from the nearby village (women’s association EZAKA). Initially, they collaborated with the Red Cross in, among other things, drug distribution. When the Red Cross left here and made way for Luke Dollar in 1996, they started this campsite with his help. Their goal is to independently generate income in this way and at the same time help to preserve the Ankarafantsika National Park. They do this by planting new trees and creating fire stops, among other things. The latter in particular is very important: every day several hectares of forest are destroyed by human-made fires.

Big fires, erosion and poverty

Kelly tells us more about this. “Unfortunately, it is a vicious circle: there is great poverty here, which means that few people go to school. Trees are felled for firing because people have no other resources or because they have no faith in the use of gas. Large areas of forest are also burned to make way for rice fields or to grow grass for zebus (cows). This erodes the park, which results in mudslides during the rainy season that can destroy entire villages. This erosion also makes the soil less and less fertile, so crops grow worse, there are greater drought and a lack of water. And this, in turn, leads to greater poverty. ”

When I set off with two researchers the next morning, I see with my own eyes what Kelly told me before. We still see smouldering places in the middle of the forest. In other places, new grass is already starting to grow above the blackened soil. The forest ends abruptly and makes way for the savannah, a dry grassland created by people. In the distance we see rice fields, a student says that all this was forest just a few years ago.

Friends of Madagascar

A large part of the work of Luke, Kelly and their students consists of conservation. For example, they have set up the organization “Friends of Madagascar” which, by building schools, tries to reduce poverty and at the same time tries to educate people about the importance of conservation.

Furthermore, the team of Luke and Kelly help MNP, the organization that manages the National Parks in Madagascar, informing them of roadkill, describing the current state of biodiversity and communicating changes in the landscape.

The Fossa: an endangered animal

Another major adverse effect of forest fires and logging is the extinction or migration of animals. When Ries sets off with a team of students the next day to see if a fossa (a mix of cat and dog) has been caught, he hears more about this. “We try to catch the fossa so that we can chip it and see how the animal moves, where it lives, etc. But also to get an idea of ​​the population. Unfortunately, we are seeing a major decline. In previous years it was relatively easy to catch one or more fossas, this year we don’t have one yet and the fossa is hardly ever photographed anymore” says one of the students.

This is another confirmation that things are not going well for the animal chain here. The fossa lives on lemurs, there are fewer and fewer lemurs because they too can find less food, causing the fossa to die out. In this way, an entire flora and fauna chain is disrupted, making the process of erosion going even faster.

Unfortunately, the same applies to the Western Falanouc, the animal that Kelly is researching. The chance that this animal will die out is increasing. “Sometimes it feels like we are pushing water uphill, every year when we come back here with students, the erosion is greater and parts of our conservation are cancelled out,” says Kelly. When asked why they would continue with this, she answered “We think this is too important and if we don’t, who will? In addition, Madagascar and its people simply stole our hearts, so we’ll keep coming back and continuing! ”

Do you want to contribute?

Friends of Madagascar is completely dependent on gifts and donations. If you (like us) want to know more about the organization or want to make a donation, you can do so via this website.

Are you going to the Ankarafantsika National Park and would you like to sleep at the campsite of the women’s association EZAKA? Then please contact Solo in advance. This can be done by e-mail: rsolonantenaina@gmail.com or by telephone on +261 324778606. There are showers and toilets on the campsite. You can also eat here, another way to support the women’s association.

Finally, we think it is important to state that this article is in no way sponsored. By accident, we met Luke and his team. Which resulted in a very special experience and a story that we would like to share with you. Madagascar is a beautiful country with an edge. We can recommend everyone to come and see it with your own eyes!

Read more about visiting Ankarana National Park here.

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