Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, in partnership with Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP), planted its two millionth tree in Madagascar today. Since 2012, the organizations’ reforestation efforts have been focused on providing habitat for lemurs, the most threatened group of mammals in the world.
Nearly all species of lemurs, which only live on the African island of Madagascar, are threatened due to habitat loss caused by deforestation. In 2012, the Zoo and MBP set a five-year goal to plant one million trees, which was reached in 2017. Fueled by the support of the Arbor Day Foundation, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and MBP were able to plant an additional one million trees in less than two years.
The Zoo’s work in Madagascar is being led by Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr., director of the conservation genetics department at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and founder of MBP. From the project’s beginning, Dr. Louis has aimed to balance the welfare of the Malagasy people with protecting the nation’s biodiversity.
“Our mission is to protect Madagascar’s remaining wildlife by working with the communities who depend on the same resources,” said Dr. Louis. “Conservation can only work if local people do not need to resort to the same resources they want to protect to feed their families. We’re creating a platform where, in the future, hopefully, they’ll be able to own their own land. We’ve divided the mountains in two. The top half is for lemurs and the forests, and the bottom half belongs to the locals for their cash crops. We’re creating entrepreneurship, ecotourism and everything that trickles down to build a solid economy.”
Commercial trees, such as bamboo, banana and cinnamon are a vital part of the reforestation program as they provide community members additional income. Each tree grown for the project begins as a seedling and is nurtured to maturity within a nursery by Zoo staff, MBP and the local community.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and MBP are now operating in four areas of Madagascar. In Kianjavato, the main reforestation area, an estimated 40 to 50 percent of working Malagasies are directly benefitting from their programs. Employees are paid a fair day rate and are also eligible for credits that can be cashed in for items such as sewing machines, biofuel efficient stoves, backpacks, boots and solar panels.