Largest Multifaceted Conservation Effort
In the last five years, Kianjavato has quickly become Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's most significant and comprehensive conservation effort. The program incorporates multiple lemur monitoring intiatives, a regional community-based reforestation effort, as well as the introduction of alternative technologies that reduce the pressures on the natural habitat while improving the quality of life for participating residents. The program is based out of the Kianjavato Ahmanson Field Station, which serves as a community center, teaching hub and site for the introduction of new technologies and procedures.
Aye-Aye Research Project
Although well-known for centuries, the aye-aye's reclusive lifestyle has limited our understanding and knowledge of its ecology, demography and population genetics in natural populations. This nocturnal lemur with unusual traits, including an elongated, thin, highly flexible middle finger leads a solitary life.
Aye-Ayes have the largest species range of any existing lemur. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership is active at two sites that represent aye-aye habitats across the eastern geographic range of the species, the humid primary forests of Kianjavato and Torotorofotsy.
Due to the demand of the forests they call home, aye-ayes may especially be vulnerable to extinction due to deforestation.
Four local guides, hired and trained by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, follow the elusive primates through the forest and collect data regarding demography, habitat use and food resources. Our monitoring program has been utilizing radio collars to monitor these elusive lemurs since 2010. Radio collars allow for the collection of GPS data, which allows for the estimation of home range sizes. We currently follow three adult males and one female, named Bozy, who gave birth to her second baby in June 2013.
Greater Bamboo Lemur Monitoring
The greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus
) in the humid forests of eastern Madagascar is critically endangered. In fact, it ranks among the top 25 most endangered primates in the world and, at one point, was even thought to be extinct. Its rediscovery in 1986 in Ranomafana was one of the leading factors in designating the area as a national park. It was simultaneously rediscovered in the Kianjavato coffee plantation, an area that currently harbors the greatest concentration of the species. Once widely distributed across vast areas of the country, massive deforestation and hunting have resulted in dwindling numbers of greater bamboo lemurs. An estimated 300 individuals now remain. However, a successful program implemented by Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership in the villages of the Kianjavato Commune is helping to reduce hunting and is rallying local support for the lemur's conservation.
A team of international volunteers and local field guides track individuals of this endemic and endangered lemur species daily, collecting a variety of data. The program is conducting a comprehensive study on the population genetics of the greater bamboo lemur, which is keystone information in developing effective in-situ
conservation plans. For this project, non-invasive techniques are used, relying on fecal samples instead of tissue as the source of DNA. This means less stress on the lemurs, less expense and the ability to make a research team of Malagasy residents and provide modest amounts of training.
Black and white ruffed lemur populations are found in the forest fragments surrounding the commune of Kianjavato. This lemur species is listed among the 25 most endangered primates in the world due to habitat loss and hunting. This monitoring program instilled by Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership involves a team of international volunteers and local field guides to track individuals of this endemic and endangered lemur species daily to record diet, home range and social interaction observations. This monitoring will aid in determining the populations' genetic health and habitat management.
As with the greater bamboo lemur study, the Varecia
study is comprehensive, looking at the population genetics of the black and white ruffed lemur, a vital component for developing effective in-situ
conservation plans. For this project, non-invasive techniques are used, relying on fecal samples instead of tissue as the source of DNA. The collection of fecal samples from this important seed-dispersing species is particularly vital to our reforestation program.
Education Promoting Reforestation Project
The Education Promoting Reforestation Program (EPRP) focused on the unique diet of the critically endangered black and white ruffed lemur, which consumes up to 90% fruit, eating it whole and then passing the seeds unharmed.
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership discovered that seeds collected from this species' fecal samples grow better than "unprocessed" seeds. In this unique reforestation project, seeds are used from the lemur's feces to rebuild lemur-friendly forests, not only planting the lemurs' favorite seeds, but also timber and fruiting trees closer to the villages to provide additional food and income.
Under the EPRP, Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership personnel, volunteers and graduate students track the lemurs through the forest, collecting fecal samples and plant the seeds in nurseries. The seedlings are transplanted as part of a community-supported reforestation program in an effort to restore Kianjavato's damaged forests. Some tree species serve to restore habitat and enable movement of future lemur populations while other species have a commercial value and benefit residents as an additional source of income. As we have seem throughout the program, community awareness and support has increased due to the regular participation of many local community members to monitor lemurs, maintenance and preparation of seedlings in the local nurseries, as well as the transplantation of trees.
The EPRP had modest beginnings focused on seven-kilometer stretch in which 60,000 trees were planted. However, with the help of local participants, we have planted more than 100,000 trees in the region in the past two years, making the future brighter and hopefully greener for these communities and the lemurs. Ultimately, we'd like to plant one million trees back into the Kianjavato landscape. We believe that our innovative forest corridor program can be one facet in a larger, overarching vision to reduce poverty while promoting a sustainable future for the residents of Kianjavato.
Conservation Credit Program
In 2012, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership initiated a conservation credit program to encourage participation at community plant events, which rewards families or individuals with a variety of items for planting trees. Incentive items were selected for the potential of improving the standard of living while reducing people's burden on local forests. These items included fuel-efficient rocket stoves, biofuel briquettes, commercially valuable trees, Water Hippo rollers and Tough Stuff solar panels and accessories. The distribution of incentive items as part of the conservation credit program is strengthening community ties to forest and habitat preservation.
In collaboration with graduate students from the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Geography Department, the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership aims to streamline and automate the conservation credit program. Participants will soon receive electronic identification cards to track their involvement and reward earnings. This technology will provide us with other valuable data collection like number and species of trees planted and the location for each planting.
Automation of the conservation credit program is an essential advance in the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership's one million tree effort and its related conservation credit program. Once deployed, this system can function as a model for serving the needs of Madagascar's people and wildlife. Encouraging communities to sustain themselves by conserving their resources through the use of alternative technologies will be a long-term process, but is the most effective way of steering Madagascar onto a healthier, more prosperous course.