Visit to the Bamboo lemur project in Madagascar

La Palmyre Zoo has been supporting Helpsimus and the Greater Bamboo lemur project in Madagascar since 2011. Recently, the zoo had the opportunity to visit the conservation project with Helpsimus' Head Delphine Roullet, who is also the primate curator in Paris Zoo and the EEP coordinator for the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus). Although the greater bamboo lemur isn't part of the 4 lemur species hosted at the zoo (which are the ring-tailed lemur, the red-ruffed lemur, the white-belted ruffed lemur and the blue-eyed lemur), the species listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List is one of the most endangered in Madagascar and its conservation needs to be supported.

The purpose of the stay was also to shoot some video footage for the next DVD of the zoo.


Shooting video footage inside the forest and in front of the community granary of Vohimarina built by Helpsimus.

During the field mission, the zoo was able to attend the 3rd International Workshop on Greater Bamboo lemur (initiated and organized by Helpsimus) that gathered all the organizations currently working for the conservation of the species throughout its home range in the town of Ranomafana (located 4 km from the Bamboo lemur project site). This symposium has highlighted all the actions undertaken within the different conservation areas of Prolemur simus and has given an update about the population estimation: there are now around 1000 wild individuals, against just over 400 since the last estimate in 2011!

Discussions during the 3rd International Workshop on greater bamboo lemur.

Following the workshop, the zoo took part in the 3rd edition of the Greater Bamboo Lemur Celebration Day in Ranomafana, a particularly awaited event that brings together all the stakeholders involved in the Bamboo lemur project (Helpsimus, partner villages, Ranomafana National Park) during an awareness day about greater bamboo lemur preservation. Celebrations included speeches of the local authorities, traditional songs and dances, carnival, women's football tournament, bowling and swimming competitions, screening of a documentary about Madagascar's endemic fauna and big dance party.

Parade of the guides of the Bamboo lemur project.

Folk dances by the schoolchildren of Sahofika.

Women's football tournament.

Swimming competition.

The zoo then visited the Bamboo lemur project site that focuses its activities on an unprotected and highly degraded area located 4km from Ranomafana National Park. There currently lives around one quarter of the global population of greater bamboo lemurs: 250 individuals divided into 9 groups daily monitored by fifteen guides originated from local communities and paied by the project.

In the background (dark wooded area): Ranomafana National Park. In the foreground: territory of the group 4.

The zoo was able to observe 3 groups of greater bamboo lemur during its stay, including one group among the largest ever observed with more than 40 individuals! Since the arrival of Helpsimus in the area in 2010, the greater bamboo lemur population has continued to grow, demonstrating the effectiveness of the actions undertaken.

Apart from the demanding treks in the bamboo forest looking after greater bamboo lemurs, the zoo has also been accompanying Delphine Roullet during her visit in the partner villages and attended discussions between Helpsimus coordinators and locals.

Discussions with Ambodimanga village's chief (background, on the left).

Indeed, besides the scientific monitoring of the animals provided by the guides and the GERP (Groupe d'Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar) primatologists, the association aims to ensure harmonious coexistence between greater bamboo lemurs whose diet mainly consists of bamboo, and the local communities that depend entirely on the land they farm and therefore regularly clear their land by using the traditional technique of "tavy" (slash-and-burn agriculture), depleting the soil and the yields in short term.
 
During the discussions, the authorities generally share their concerns and present their requests to the association who then tries to find the best solutions according to its financial and technical constraints. The villagers' requests are primarly on the improvement of education and development aid. That's why the association supports the contruction or renovation of schools, pays teachers, purchase and deliver school supplies to the children. The zoo was able to visit the school of Ambodimanga which is in very poor condition and that is hoped to be renovated by Helpsimus next year if it finds enough funding.

The school of Ambodimanga.

The other major problem is the recent appearance of conflicts between humans and animals, the latter regularly destroying some rice or sugar cane fields. Helpsimus currently works on the creation of activities generating new incomes that could compensate the loss suffered by the families. It also think about solutions for protecting the crops, including water ditches around the fields visited by lemur groups.
 
Finally the zoo had the opportunity to attend an awareness session about preserving the greater bamboo lemur organized by the GERP in the village of Volotara. Such meetings allow to remind the importance and interest of protecting this species and to involve all the villagers (authorities, elders, women, children) which is a key to the success of the project.

Sensitization of the villagers of Volotara.

If visiting in situ conservation projects allows donors to see how their funds are used, it also helps them to better understand the overall context of the project, to measure its successes but also the difficulties inherent to the field work.
 
In the case of the Bamboo lemur project, one thing is certain: actions implemented with yet a modest budget have already significantly allowed to reduce clearings, to improve the education of the children and to create fifteen local jobs. Although the future of the 250 greater bamboo lemurs living on that area isn't secured in long-term, the 50 births recorded last year shine like a beautiful light of hope!
 
If you want to become a member of Helpsimus and contribute to greater bamboo lemur conservation in the wild, please visit www.helpsimus.org
 
Video to follow: the mission of the zoo on the Bamboo lemur project in Madagascar!