Zoo Society Executive Director Pamela Reed Sanchez will be updating this travel log as One Cubic Foot Madagascar continues.
Part Four: Conservation Takes A Generation
My last night (for this trip) in Centre ValBio was May 31, 2016, the 25th anniversary of the opening of Ranomafana National Park. There was a small celebration at dinner, where everyone gathered to hear Dr. Patricia Wright relay the events of that historic day, when so many Malagasy dignitaries were on hand.
As she closed her remarks, she said, “I thought the opening of the national park was the end of my major work in Ranomafana. It turned out it was just the beginning.”
What Dr. Wright and her colleagues have built at Centre ValBio is nothing short of remarkable, with essentially self-sustaining world-class research facilities used by researchers from around the globe. The dormitories are remarkably clean and comfortable, with space for scores of people to stay at one time. A new kitchen is being built presently, and the dining hall will be expanded significantly to serve the increasing number of people that use Centre ValBio.
But it is her relationship to the Malagasy people that is key. Pat has understood from her earliest days of working in Madagascar that it wasn’t enough to go in and tell people what to do, or even show people what to do. Those efforts don’t create lasting change. But efforts that combine conservation with economic development and education for the local villagers – those efforts have a chance.
Centre ValBio employs more than eighty Malagasy from the local villages. There are shuttles that provide transportation to and from the Centre. A number of her key staff have been with her thirty years. If staff can’t read and write, they are taught. She is clearly both revered and beloved. She told me that when she went to town on Sunday, which was Malagasy Mother’s Day, she had many people wishing her Happy Mother’s Day.
One evening when I was sitting at dinner with Pat, Dominique – who was the One Cubic Foot team’s incredible guide each and every time we went out into the Park – pulled up a chair and handed Pat a piece of paper with a proud smile on his face. His daughter has been accepted to university. Pat got a broad smile on her face and cheered “Dominique that’s wonderful!” As it turns out, Pat personally pays for her employees’ children who attend high school ($500 annually) and college ($1,000). Their success is costing her quite a bit, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
In her words, “It takes a generation for this to take hold. And I’m doing what I can to be sure that happens.”