Madagascar conservation update


This 2013 video is called Madagascar -­‐ Biodiversity Hot Spot, Part 1.

From BirdLife:

Forests, wetlands and people: celebrating 20 years of Malagasy success

By Rosa Gleave, 3 Nov 2016

BirdLife Partner Asity Madagascar today celebrates its 20th anniversary, a milestone that marks years of conservation success for birds, forests and wetlands.

Named after one of the island-continent’s most fascinating endemic bird families, Asity’s founding members met at a BirdLife workshop in the 1990s.

Asity was created at a time when much of the conservation work in Madagascar was controlled by expatriates and international conservation NGOs.

“The founders of Asity wanted a Malagasy way of doing things. Their vision and dedication to create a national conservation organisation for Madagascar is at the heart of BirdLife’s principles and structure”, said Roger Safford, Senior Programme Manager who has been working with Asity for more than 15 years.

Dedication and hard graft have produced tangible results. Asity Madagascar secured full protection for three important sites: the Mahavavy-Kinkony Wetland Complex, Mangoky-Ihotry Wetland Complex and Tsitongambarika Forest. Representing 800,000 ha of Madagasy habitat, these are co-managed in partnership with local communities and supporting their livelihoods.

Securing the future of the Tsitongambarika Forest has been in progress since 2005 as part of BirdLife’s global Forests of Hope programme. Overlapping with Tsitongambarika IBA, the area hosts threatened bird species such as the Scaly Ground-roller Brachypteracias squamiger, Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei and Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae.

Both Madagascar Sacred Ibis Threskiornis bernieri and Sakalava Rail Zapornia olivieri depend on the now-protected wetland sites, which may be the most important in the world for these species.

Significant challenges have hampered Asity’s progress: the development of the Protected Areas programme was frozen for 5 years until 2014 by political instability.

Despite these setbacks, it is now a highly respected national NGO working alongside local and national bodies, raising its own funds from a range of government agencies, foundations, trusts, BirdLife Partners, other NGOs, corporations … and individual donations.

Asity Madagascar is strong in own right, but also forms more than the sum of its parts when strengthening the BirdLife family.

With congratulations flooding in from across the BirdLife Partnership, we look forward to another 20 years working for forests, wetlands and people across Madagascar.

Saving Madagascar’s wildlife


This video says about itself:

Birds & More: Madagascar Safari

Extraordinary place. 80 % of the species are endemic. 6 endemic families of birds. The lemurs were wonderful, so different from monkeys, probably because of a lack of predators. The “spiny” forests are well named and feature the most fascinating baobab trees. The people came from Africa and Southeast Asia and have merged incredibly well. The politics do not seem to be racially based. Away from “Tana”, the capital city, it is an attractive country; 10/2009.

From BirdLife:

Conserving Madagascar‘s forest of hope

By Roger Safford, 20 Oct 2016

Developing the confidence of local communities and a BirdLife Partner to work together to protect their environment has brought encouraging changes for nature and people.

Some places are so rich in natural wonders, so extraordinary, so different from any other, so important for people, and yet so threatened, that we must pull out all the stops to save them. Madagascar is one such: an ‘island-continent’ almost as big as France, with wildlife so unlike even nearby Africa’s that it can hardly be bracketed with it, or any other region of the world. Within this vast area are a multitude of astonishing sites, and right up among the most remarkable of these is Tsitongambarika Forest. Most of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed over a long period, and in particular the lowlands have suffered, being the most accessible areas.

The rainforests of Madagascar form a chain extending down the east side of the great island, much of it on steep slopes and at high altitude. In a few places, mostly in the North, forest survives down on the hills, and very occasionally plains, by the coast; but in the South, forest in such places has virtually all gone. It is no wonder, then, that Tsitongambarika, as the only remaining area in southern Madagascar that supports significant areas of lowland rainforest, is such a treasure. Scaly and Short-legged Ground-rollers (Geobiastes squamiger and Brachypteracias leptosomus), once impossible dreams for visitors and still highly prized finds, are common.

Scaly Ground-roller is a particularly bizarre-looking creature, confined to Madagascar’s lowland rainforest, with markings unlike any other bird: subtle rufous, green and brown hues set off by black and white ‘scales’, and quite unexpectedly sky-blue patches revealed when the tail is spread. Like most other ground-rollers (an entire family restricted to Madagascar), they live on the ground, rummaging in the leaf litter or rotting wood, picking out animal prey. Its close relative, the Short-legged Ground-roller, looks somewhat similar, but is the exception, living mainly in the trees.

More in the ‘small brown job’ category – but on closer inspection a pleasing mixture of pastel shades of grey, brown, pink and rufous – the Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae was lost to science from 1930 to 1989, when it was rediscovered very close to Tsitongambarika; we now know it to be common there but there are very few if any other places where this can be said. Another species once lost is the elusive Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei; this is also increasingly frequently observed at Tsitongambarika.

However, it is arguably for the other fauna and flora that Tsitongambarika is most extraordinary. Being able to fly, birds tend to spread around the island’s forests (although not beyond them), whereas these other species have evolved and remain in situ as unique forms confined to tiny areas. Sometimes it seems that almost everything is endemic, not just to Madagascar, but to South-East Madagascar, and many species are known from no other site. Nearly all the lemurs are represented by local species, like the beautiful collared lemur Eulemur collaris, along with Fleurette’s sportive lemur Lepilemur fleuretae (Critically Endangered, with a tiny range), southern woolly lemur Avahi meridionalis, southern bamboo lemur Hapalemur meridionalis and others.

The reptile and amphibian fauna is almost unbelievably rich: among around 130 species in total, no fewer than 11 have been observed that simply are ‘not in the book’ and so appear, based on the views of highly experienced herpetologists, to be new to science, and recorded only at Tsitongambarika. Giant and dwarf chameleons abound, alongside cryptically coloured lizards (one gecko bearing a startling resemblance to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings stories), brilliantly coloured tree-frogs and snakes. The flora is, of course, just as extraordinary, with new species being found at such a rate that botanists have, like the zoologists, been unable to keep pace in describing them.

The bad news is that deforestation rates at Tsitongambarika have been among the highest in Madagascar. As in much of the country, deforestation is mainly a result of shifting cultivation by poor subsistence farmers lacking alternative land to grow food-crops and desperate to lay claim to land, which they can do by clearing forest. Further threats are from logging of precious hardwoods and hunting of wildlife in the forest.

But there is hope. Since 2005 the national NGO Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner), has been working to save Tsitongambarika Forest, as part of the BirdLife’s global Forests of Hope programme. Local people, as aware as anyone of the forest’s value, are also keen to conserve it, but need help to maintain and improve their precarious livelihoods without clearing forest; any change to their circumstances and the resources they need can be disastrous for them. Too often portrayed as the villains of tropical deforestation, local people can be the best conservationists, so long as their needs are properly considered and they take part in and benefit from management.

As one of the first steps in developing the forest conservation programme, Asity Madagascar carried out a comprehensive social and environmental assessment for the whole forest, which identified people most affected by protected area establishment and specified actions to meet their needs. Asity Madagascar then helped to establish a local organisation, KOMFITA, as an ‘umbrella’ body of community associations which, together with Asity Madagascar and supervised by the government, manage the forest.

KOMFITA ensures that the forest-edge community is consulted in all aspects of the project, the benefits are determined and shared fairly, and local people are properly involved (as ‘co-managers’) of the forest. The communities themselves define the Dina or resource management rules for the forest. These can include some controlled and agreed use of forest products, limited to certain zones so that other areas are left completely intact; they may also benefit from income related to forest conservation such as tourist guiding, or be supported to take up new ways of making a living by growing food for sale or subsistence away from the forest. Remarkable improvements have been made, for example through supporting simple composting methods in the cultivation of cassava, the local staple, or improved water management to grow rice close to the villages.

In April 2015, 600 square kilometres at Tsitongambarika, including the whole forest, was protected by the Government of Madagascar, in recognition of the progress made by Asity Madagascar working with local communities as well as of its overall importance. Problem solved? Sadly not, although a crucial step forward, which blocks many potentially damaging developments and helps to direct conservation support to the site. The Government of Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, can neither fund nor manage and enforce conservation plans for its many extraordinary sites; it needs, and has asked for, help. This is where the project comes in. Asity Madagascar and local communities have jointly been made managers of the new Tsitongambarika Protected Area, supervised by the Government and supported by many other organisations.

With support of the BirdLife, will allow Asity Madagascar and local communities to carry out longterm conservation plans for Tsitongambarika. It will strengthen their ability to conserve the forest while improving their livelihoods outside the forest, providing them with opportunities that, based on trials, they readily accept. But there must be rules, and the project will support enforcement, by local communities themselves but supported by Government authorities where necessary. Finally, the project will identify and secure long-term financing sources for conservation of Tsitongambarika.

Thirteen years ago, BirdLife launched a wetland conservation programme in Madagascar with the team that is now Asity Madagascar. Back then, the capacity of national (Malagasy) organisations to conserve big sites was minimal, and the country’s wetlands were on hardly anyone’s agenda. With BirdLife’s help, Asity has grown into a proficient protected area manager and advocate for conservation, and have secured protection for both of the huge wetland sites; no wetland species has been lost from the sites. Conservation work there continues as it will always have to, but so much has been achieved that it is time to look again at the forests. Let us all rally round to save them.

Researchers Discover “Ghost Snake” in Madagascar


Quiet Kinetic

Malagasy cat-eyed snake The Malagasy cat-eyed snake (Madagascarophis meridionalis) is a relative of the ghost snake. Photo: Shutterstock

It might seem that, by 2016, it would be pretty rare to discover new species of animals. But a team of researchers from Louisiana State University have done just that.

They were looking for specimens of a different species when they found a snake they’d never seen before: Madagascarophis lolo, the ghost snake.

This snake’s very pale coloration and the fact that only one has ever been discovered earned it the name “ghost snake.” Lolo means ghost in the local Malagasy language.

The ghost snake belongs to a group of “cat-eyed snakes,” which have slit pupils like cats and are most active at night. They’re among the most common kinds of snake in Madagascar, but the closet relative of the ghost snake is found about 100 kilometers away, and it has only been…

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Madagascar dwarf lemurs, sleep and hibernation


This video from the USA says about itself:

2 May 2013

Two new species of dwarf lemurs have been found hibernating during the lean months of winter in Eastern Madagascar. Scientific Reports, May 2, 2013. An interview with researcher Marina Blanco, PhD, with footage from field research and still images from the Duke Lemur Center. See story here.

From Science News:

Dwarf lemurs don’t agree on sleep

Fat-tailed species dozes during hibernation, but latest tests find different twist in relatives

By Susan Milius

10:00am, September 5, 2016

Contrary to many adorable children’s stories, hibernation is so not sleeping. And most animals can’t do both at the same time.

So what’s with Madagascar’s dwarf lemurs? The fat-tailed dwarf lemur slows its metabolism into true hibernation, and stays there even when brain monitoring shows it’s also sleeping. But two lemur cousins, scientists have just learned, don’t multitask. Like other animals, they have to rev their metabolisms out of hibernation if they want a nap.

Hibernating animals, in the strictest sense, stop regulating body temperature, says Peter Klopfer, cofounder of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, N.C. “They become totally cold-blooded, like snakes.” By this definition, bears don’t hibernate; they downregulate, dropping their body temperatures only modestly, even when winter den temperatures sink lower. And real hibernation lasts months, disqualifying short-termers such as subtropical hummingbirds. The darting fliers cease temperature regulation and go truly torpid at night. “You can pick them out of the trees,” Klopfer says.

The fat-tailed dwarf lemur, Cheirogaleus medius, was the first primate hibernator discovered, snuggling deep into the softly rotting wood of dead trees. “You’d think they’d suffocate,” he says. But their oxygen demands plunge to somewhere around 1 percent of usual. As trees warm during the day and cool at night, so do these lemurs. When both a tree and its inner lemur heat up, the lemur’s brain activity reflects mammalian REM sleep.

Klopfer expected much the same from two other dwarf lemurs from an upland forest with cold, wet winters. There, C. crossleyi and C. sibreei spend three to seven months curled up underground, below a thick cushion of fallen leaves. “If you didn’t know better, you might think they were dead because they’re cold to the touch,” Klopfer says.

Unlike the tree-hibernators, the upland lemurs take periodic breaks from hibernating to sleep, Klopfer, the Lemur Center’s Marina Blanco and colleagues report in the August Royal Society Open Science. The lemurs generated some body heat of their own about once a week, which is when their brains showed signs of sleep (REM-like and slow-wave).  “My suspicion is that sleep during torpor is only possible at relatively high temperatures, above 20º Celsius,” Klopfer says. Sleep may be important enough for cold-winter lemurs to come out of the storybook “long winter’s nap.”

Omura’s whales, new discoveries


This video says about itself:

3 November 2015

This research was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science in the paper: ‘Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) off northwest Madagascar: ecology, behaviour and conservation needs’ by Cerchio et al. The doi link for the article is here.

From National Geographic:

This Bus-Size Whale Is Even More Unusual Than We Thought

Scientists are starting to piece together the secret life of the little-seen Omura’s whale, which has a peculiar diet.

By Traci Watson

PUBLISHED February 10, 2016

Well after its discovery a decade ago, the sleek swimmer called the Omura’s whale remained an enigma. Reports of live animals were vague and unconvincing, leaving the whale’s habits and even its markings a mystery.

Now, scientists are starting to piece together the secret life of the little-seen species.

Recent expeditions off Madagascar revealed the whales devouring tiny shrimp-like creatures, as well as guzzling large mouthfuls of “dirty water”—a phenomenon scientists can’t yet explain.

“People see our photos and videos and say, ‘What are they feeding on? I don’t see anything there,’” says Salvatore Cerchio, a marine mammal biologist at the New England Aquarium and leader of the first team to document the whales’ lives.

“Well, I don’t know yet.” (Read about the Madagascar Omura’s Whale Project.)

The whales’ seemingly invisible food supply only adds to the mystique of the Omura’s whale, whose habitat, lifestyle, and social lives make them standouts in the whale world.

Big Moment

Even so, the Omura’s has avoided the limelight. It wasn’t until 2003 that Japanese researchers identified it as a species in its own right rather than a petite version of the similar-looking Bryde’s whale. Genetic data confirmed the whale as its own species in 2006.  …

Even after it was unmasked in the scientific literature, the Omura’s was still known only from dead specimens, some hauled onto whaling ships, others stranded on coastlines.

Then came the Omura’s big moment.

Scouting for dolphins near Madagascar a few years ago, Cerchio spotted some medium-size whales. After the DNA analysis came back, on December 24, 2014, Cerchio learned he’d stumbled onto Omura’s whales—“a very nice Christmas gift,” says Cerchio, a National Geographic explorer.  …

The team’s first round of data, published in October 2015 in the journal Royal Society Open Science, suggest that these Omura’s at least are homebodies. The sightings also suggest the Omura’s sticks to tropical and subtropical waters.

For a whale, that’s doubly unusual. Most whales migrate, often over long distances, and most spend at least some of the year in cooler waters closer to the poles, where food abounds. (See “Life in Antarctica Relies on Shrinking Supply of Krill.”)

Madagascar lemurs’ love life, video


This video says about itself:

Lemur‘s Scent Attracts Females – Animal Attraction – BBC

24 January 2016

Ring tailed lemurs waft their special scent to attract females, but the very latest science suggest that his scent contains clues to a different strength…

The Madagascan fat-tailed dwarf lemur could hold the secret to human hibernation and mankind’s chances of exploring the deepest reaches of the known universe, according to a team of top neuroscientists: here.

Rare Omura’s whales studied in Madagascar


This video says about itself:

23 October 2015

Balaenoptera omurai is known as Omura’s whale and is one of the least known species of whales in the world. Now, researchers have studied around 25 individuals in Madagascar, noticing unique asymmetrical pigmentation on the head:

A – asymmetrical coloration of the lower jaw
B – asymmetrical coloration of the gape
C – leading edge of pectoral fin white from tip to shoulder
D – apparent absence of lateral rostral ridges
E – lightly pigmented blaze originating anterior to the eye
F – lightly pigmented chevron anterior to dorsal fin

The study will continue on whales’ vocalizations, behavior and population characteristics.

From the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA:

22 October 2015

New study provides first field observations of rare Omura’s whales

An international team of biologists has made the first-ever field observations of one of the least known species of whales in the world–Omura’s whales–off the coast of Madagascar.

In a paper published October 14, 2015, in the Royal Society Open Science journal, the researchers describe the whales’ foraging and vocal behaviors, and habitat preferences in the shallow waters of coastal Madagascar.

For many years, these marine mammals were misidentified as Bryde’s whales due to their similar appearance–both are small tropical baleen whales with comparable dorsal fins, though Omura’s are slightly smaller in size and have unique markings with a lower jaw that is white on the right side and dark on the left.

In 2003, using genetic data from samples obtained from old whaling expeditions and a few strandings in the western tropical Pacific, scientists determined Omura’s whales were actually a distinct species. But there had been no confirmed records of sightings in the wild and little else has been known about the elusive species until now.

“Over the years, there have been a small handful of possible sightings of Omura’s whales, but nothing that was confirmed,” says lead author Salvatore Cerchio, who led the research while at the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is now at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and a guest investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). “They appear to occur in remote regions and are difficult to find at sea because they are small–they range in length from approximately 33 to 38 feet–and do not put up a prominent blow.”

So little is known about Omura’s whales that scientists are unsure how many exist or how rare the species is.

“What little we knew about these whales previously came primarily from eight specimens of Omura’s whales taken in Japanese scientific whaling off the Solomon and Keeling Islands and a couple strandings of dead animals in Japan,” Cerchio adds. “This is the first definitive evidence and detailed descriptions of Omura’s whales in the wild and part of what makes this work particularly exciting.”

When Cerchio and his colleagues, who have been conducting field research on marine mammals off the northwest coast of Madagascar since 2007, first spotted an Omura’s whale in the area in 2011, they too believed it was a Bryde’s whale.

“From the little information on their habitat and range, Omura’s whales were not supposed to be in that part of the Indian Ocean,” Cerchio says.

After moving study areas in 2013, the sightings became more frequent and the team noticed the distinct markings– unique asymmetrical pigmentation on the head– that led them to believe the whales might be Omura’s whales.

Over a two-year period, the researchers observed 44 groups and were able to collect skin biopsies from 18 adult whales. The samples were then sent to coauthor Alec Lindsay at Northern Michigan University who performed the DNA analysis that confirmed the whales’ species.

The research team also observed four mothers with young calves. Using hydrophones, they recorded song-like vocalizations that may indicate reproductive behavior.

Cerchio will return to the field in November to do further study on the whales’ vocalizations, behavior and population characteristics. He also hopes to expand the research area in future studies of Omura’s whales, working with colleagues at WHOI to deploy Digital Acoustic Recording Tags (DTAGS) and to study the species in other parts of its range.

Cerchio hopes to produce the first estimate of abundance for any population of Omura’s whales with the work off Madagascar. So far, the team has catalogued approximately 25 individuals through photographic identifications.

What are drift gillnets and how are they hurting whales? Here.