Education Promoting Reforestation Program

Thousands of years ago before humans inhabited Madagascar, the island was covered in 594,221 square kilometers of forest.  However, over 11,000 football fields of Madagascar's forests are destroyed every year from slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and for the production of fuel wood and charcoal.  Only 59,038 square kilometers, less than 10%, of forest remain.

The current statistics about world deforestation are daunting. According to the World Resources Institute, 80% of the earth's natural forests are already gone, with more being destroyed every year. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium's Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP) has witnessed the effects of deforestation firsthand.  The forests surrounding the area of Kianjavato, in southeastern Madagascar, were once connected but are now severely fragmented due to slash and burn agriculture.  This destruction has left the rare animal inhabitants of Kianjavato severely in danger of becoming extinct.

The MBP is addressing this devastating deforestation through the Education Promoting Reforestation Program, or EPRP, which utilizes the important seed dispersal function of the Black-and-white ruffed lemur.  These lemurs have a diet of almost 95% fruit, but do not harm the seeds during consumption.  MBP found that the seeds in the lemur droppings would germinate, producing seedlings of the tree species that the lemurs like to eat.  The MBP reforestation project evolved from this, with the goal of transplanting these seedlings into the corridor, extending the animal's habitat.  By using the seeds from the fruit that the Black-and-white ruffed lemur loves to eat, the MBP is ensuring that our reforested area will have the tree species that are important to the lemurs.  When these new trees are old enough to start producing fruit, this will entice the lemurs to venture into these reforested areas.  And as seed dispersers, the lemurs will continue to help supply the new forest with more trees.

The MBP has also implemented an education component with the reforestation project by having primary school students and local community members participate in planting the seeds in nurseries. Once grown, the seedlings are transplanted into the corridor by local volunteers.  Each tree is individually labeled so participants can revisit their tree as it grows.

Essential to the reforestation effort, the MBP's nurseries in Kianjavato provide shelter for more than 20,000 seedlings and trees while they await placement into the new forest.  These nurseries are managed and maintained by Malagasy graduate students and local assistants.  An army of community participants, including local school children, teachers, volunteers and village elders and officials serve as facilitators and supporters of the reforestation effort.

While the MBP works to reconnect forest fragments, volunteers help the seeds germinate and grow and transplant the seedlings into their forest. The goal for the EPRP is to plant a million trees in the next five years!

The MBP has expanded the EPRP to benefit Kianjavato's community by including commercial trees (like rosewood, citrus and cashew) as part of the reforestation program.  Planted in zones closer to the village and away from the corridor, these trees provide community members additional income and food.  The MBP hopes that by teaching the community how to plant and grow their own trees, they will have a greater sense of pride toward the unique flora that surround them.