Madagascar's youth speak up for lemurs
The futures of Madagascar's youth and its lemurs are intertwined. In a country where 60% of the population is under 25, widespread poverty is driving unsustainable use of natural resources such as forests and wetlands. This is placing increased pressure on the country's unique biodiversity, including its 111 lemur species.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ calculates some 90% of lemurs are in danger of imminent extinction, however. Impoverished communities rely on already depleted forests and other natural spaces for fuel, food and minerals - leading to the destruction of lemur habitats.
It is estimated almost 90% of Malagasy still cook and heat their homes using fires fueled by charcoal: a wood-based fuel source that is laborious to make and which is devouring the country's few remaining forests.
"Solutions are practical win-win ideas that benefit communities economically while charting the way to a brighter, greener future." Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Groupe d'Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar (GERP)
Connecting habitats through reforestation programmes, adopting sustainable agricultural practices, providing more efficient cooking methods, supporting community patrolling of protected areas and generating eco-tourism related services deliver tangible benefits for young people and for lemurs alike.
Giving local communities the opportunity to express their cultural relationship with lemurs is the starting point for this process.
"Tapping into young people's energy is key to shifting from conflict to coexistence." Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka, Founder of Madagasikara Voakajy
Celebrating nature is just a start. Schoolchildren need a variety of materials, skills and opportunities to help them save lemurs.
For example near to Ranomafana National Park in south-eastern Madagascar, conservationists and local communities co-produce a special lemur radio series drawing on folklore, local music and interviews. The team hopes to distribute the series to other regional radio channels.
Around Mangabe village in central eastern Madagascar, students develop creative ways to promote lemur conservation during a competition. The prize? Training on improved rice farming techniques, chicken breeding and tree-planting.
Field trips to see wild lemurs help students to speak from experience by understanding the interdependence of wild animals and their forest habitat.
Parading during World Lemur Festival each October can be a highlight in any child's year. It also builds community support for lemur conservation.
"Empowering communities through new livelihood opportunities so they can shape their future enables them to feel proud of the natural heritage that is often unique to their corner of this diverse island continent. This sense of ownership is key." Serge Rajaobelina, Founder Association Fanamby
In Kianjavato a tree planting programme pays conservation credits to villagers for helping connect fragmented forests, rebuilding lemur habitat. These can be exchanged to purchase useful items such as sewing machines, bicycles and solar panels from a catalogue.
Drought resistant rice planted around Lac Alaotra in north-eastern Madagascar - an important fishery and rice growing area - is helping increase income and food security while reducing pressure to convert marshlands into rice paddies. This is good news for local farmers and the Critically Endangered Alaotra reed lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis) - the "bandro" - which only lives in these papyrus reed beds.
These are just some examples of practical solutions developed to generate win-win scenarios addressing some of the most fundamental development issues affecting Madagascar.
"Madagascar has enormous eco-tourism potential. Nowhere on planet Earth can you see so many species of primates so easily in just a few days". Russell A. Mittermeier, Chair of IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group
The future for Madagascar's young people and its lemurs depends on transitioning from conflict to coexistence with nature.
Reforestation, sustainable agriculture, new cooking methods and well-managed eco-tourism will all play a part in helping build that brighter greener future. But it all begins with inspired hearts and minds.
Conservation action works but only with our collective support.
Just #DoOneThingToday on World Wildlife Day, March 3 and share this story.
To learn more about IUCN's SOS - Save Our Species and its lemurs conservation initiative, visit www.saveourspecies.org