Madagascar is considered one of the most diverse and ecologically important biodiversity hotspots in the world. These areas consist of unique plants and animals whose very existence are under threat. Sadly, the agricultural practice of tavy (slash and burn farming), mining, illegal logging and poaching have resulted in the loss of more than 90% of Madagascar's original forest and an overwhelming majority of animals are now on the lists of endangered and critically endangered species. For the critically endangered species that reside within these forests to survive, the local communities must take ownership and activity engage in conservation.
Dr. Edward Louis Jr., director of the Conservation Genetics Department at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, has been working in Madagascar since 1998. Since his first trip to the island nation 15 years ago, Dr. Louis and his team have visited more than 160 sites and studied more than 5,000 lemurs. The focus of the program has been to develop baseline molecular genetic and distribution data on Malagasy flora and fauna with an emphasis on lemur species.
Since the onset of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's involvement in Madagascar, this conservation research effort has produced more than 100 scientific publications, including manuscripts describing 21 new species of lemur and elevating eight other lemurs to species level.
Much of the fieldwork is now done in collaboration with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP), a non-governmental Malagasy organization that Dr. Louis started in 2010. The Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership evolved out of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's conservation programs. Together, the Zoo and the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership strives to protect local forests for the lemurs while sustainably raising the standard of living for thousands of people who are equally reliant upon the natural resources.
Believing that everything is connected, or "Mampifandray ny tontolo," the Zoo and the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership incorporates research, education and community involvement to achieve sustainability. This multifaceted program was recognized for its efforts with the 2010 Association of Zoos and Aquariums' International Conservation Award.
Other Facts About Madagascar:
- About the size of Texas, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world.
- Madagascar is located near the southeastern coast of Africa
- The native culture of Madagascar is Malagasy; the native language is also Malagasy.
- Over 80% of Madagascar’s animals are endemic, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
- Over 90% of Madagascar’s forests have disappeared due to human activity.
- Madagascar is home to the most endangered primate in the world, the Greater Bamboo lemur. This lemur got its name from its diet that is made up of 90% bamboo, despite the toxic levels of cyanide it contains.
To review publications regarding Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's efforts Madagascar, please click here.