Zoo Society Executive Director Pamela Reed Sanchez will be updating this travel log as One Cubic Foot Madagascar continues.
Part Two: The road to Ranomafana
Long story short, I was two days late arriving in Madagascar. The Johannesburg hotel airport is quite fine but six meals in a row in the same airport restaurant makes one anxious to get back in the air. One Cubic Foot creator and photographer David Liittschwager stayed in Johannesburg with me so that this naïve international traveler wouldn’t have to make the journey alone.
As we flew into Antananarivo, Madagascar, we counted dozens of fires from the air. Actually, David counted 21 fires, and then stopped, but there were many, many more.
The fires are small burns of one to two acres of forest that the local people are removing in order to create rice paddy-fields. The trees are cut down first, for fuel, and for building, and for export. Some of the wood here is incredibly valuable. The stumps are then burned and the land converted for agriculture.
It is no surprise that of the 103 species of lemurs, more than 90% of these arboreal primates are highly endangered. Their habitat has shrunk by 80% as more and more forest is converted to farming.
As we made our ten-hour drive from Antananarivo to Ranomafana National Park (spread over two days), I understood why.
The population in Madagascar essentially doubled in the last 20 years, to more than 22 million; 90% of them live on less than $2 a day. When your choice is to cut down a tree to feed your family, or save a lemur, is there really a choice?
And that is why the work of people like Dr. Patricia Wright, founder of Centro ValBio and a major instigator of the creation of Ranomafana National Park, is so essential. Pat and her team – the majority of whom are Malagasy – understand the extraordinary biodiversity of this island nation, and are working to preserve it.
Tomorrow I head into Ranomafana National Park to see lemurs and chameleons and whatever else awaits in the natural world. A day without humans, other than the team here looking for biodiversity. I’m ready for that.