Akaiza (Where)?

I won’t say that the fine people reading this website won’t know where Madagascar is located. I will, however, mention that I have heard of Peace Corps volunteers being told that they couldn’t go to Madagascar, because it was just made up for the movie. But, of course, I can’t really talk…I thought fossa were an animal made up for the movie until I saw the BBC documentary on Animal Planet.

So where is this imaginary land where lions, hippos, and penguins frolic in rainforest? Madagascar floats in the Indian Ocean, just off the southeastern coast of Africa. Where is my study located? In Makira Natural Park, in northeastern Madagascar. Or, as I have heard it eloquently, if somewhat vulgarly put, in the armpit of Madagascar.Madagascar map

Heavily forested, constantly wet, half of the time stinks to be here…I can’t really argue with that description.

Makira Natural Park (hereafter, Makira) is the largest protected area in Madagascar. The actual park is slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island (3,724.7 km2). When you add the equally large community-managed buffer, Makira is slightly bigger than the state of Delaware (7,235.1 km2). Makira is connected to Masoala National Park (hereafter, Masoala) by a narrow bridge of intact forest; excluding the community-managed buffers, the Masoala-Makira protected area complex is, again, slightly bigger than the state of Delaware (7327.5 km2), and the largest protected area complex in Madagascar. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, within the Masoala-Makira complex resides half of all of Madagascar’s biodiversity. Masoala-Makira is like a biodiversity hotspot within a biodiversity hotspot.


The habitat mixture of lowland and mid-altitude rainforest, with large sections of degraded forest, spreads over valleys and mountains that range from 300 to 1,447 m in elevation. There is continuing fragmentation and habitat loss in Makira, along with unsustainable bushmeat hunting, due to the growing human demand on the forest and wildlife by the approximately 270,000 Malagasy living within or near Makira.

Cool facts about Makira:

  • Home to six of the nine known endemic carnivores
  • Has the highest diversity of lemurs in the world
  • The Masoala-Makira and Zahamena-Mantadia-Vohidrazana protected area complexes (ZMV a little further south) is believed to hold 95% of the eastern fossa population

A pirogue (dugout canoe) used to cross the river.

Zach Farris completed the first long-term study on carnivores and carnivore ecology in Makira. He conducted his research at seven sites, two of which were resurveyed, for a total of eleven surveys. The logistical constraint of traveling to potential field sites was a deciding factor on which sites were to be surveyed. Traveling in Makira is no joke, with most travel done either by boat or by foot. My study will use data collected by Zach and his WCS collaborators, in addition to new data collected by yours truly in 2013 at two sites. These sites are Anjanaharibe (AJB) and Mangabe (MGB).

All 7

*Click the site names to see location and carnivores and lemurs found at the site!

Anjanaharibe (AJB): The crown jewel in this study’s crown. AJB was the first site to be surveyed by Virginia Tech in collaboration with WCS in 2008. Nestled in intact forest around 5km from the village of Andaparaty, AJB is of particular importance for various reasons. It has been surveyed five times in the past six years, all six carnivore species found in Makira have been found at AJB, it is located along a critical corridor that connects portions of Makira, and it is home to the critically endangered silky sifaka. There are plans to make this site an ecotourism site.

Mangabe (MGB): ‘Manga’ is blue and ‘be’ is very or much, so ‘Mangabe’ means very blue. Small streams flow through this intact forest site and it is on the very edge of a large swath of intact forest that is just waiting to be explored. Mornings at MGB are filled with the haunting song of the indri. MGB has been surveyed twice in the past two years, and I plan to conduct another survey this November (2013). Anecdotally, the guides tell me that there are many more animals at MGB than at AJB, and I am inclined to believe them. I hope that eventually MGB becomes another long-term site like AJB.

Soavera (SOA): Soavera is the last intact forest site and is it remote! The research team had to spend a day on the river in addition to hiking out four days to get to the site. Perhaps this is why there were tons of lemurs to be found at this site. For some reason, though, there were few fossa to be found. This mystery led to thoughts of exploring the region around SOA, specifically the Lac Amparihibe region, to determine whether the dearth of fossa was widespread or just at SOA.

Lokaitra (LOK): A fragmented forest site and the only site where lemur surveys weren’t conducted at the time of camera trapping.

Vinanibe (VIN)This place is supposedly overrun with chickens. Vinanibe is a fragmented forest site, rather flat, so it is easy for villagers to come in and take a tree here, a tree there. Indri were heard and counted on lemur transects, but they were noted to come from outside of the site, deeper into the more intact forest.

Sahavary (SLJ): Another fragmented forest site.

Farakarina (FRK): Run by Antongil Conservation, Farakarina is the most fragmented of all of our sites, separated from other forest by 5km on all sides. Split in half by a road, the northern half of FRK is extremely degraded, while the southern half is primary forest. I had originally planned to resurvey FRK, but the allure of MGB was too strong!

Totozy sy Olona

The best laid schemes of mice and (wo)men often go awry…and my plan has gone awry. Originally, I had planned to resurvey AJB and FRK. I also wanted to take a stab at setting up a new site. Based on Google Earth explorations of the area around SOA, I decided to attempt to survey the region around Lac Amparihibe, one of the few crater-lakes in Makira. AMPThe huge swath of forest and the remoteness of Amparihibe (AMP) called to me; AMP was 18km away from the nearest village and it would take four days of hiking to get out there. Perhaps I could find out why there were so few carnivores at SOA, despite it having so many lemurs and such nice habitat. Perhaps I could find evidence of the giant fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea), still alive. I had a childhood cryptozoology interest, so sue me. However, based on funding and a change in goals, I’ve decided to survey two sites: AJB and MGB. I’ve dropped the dream of going to Amparihibe…at least for now.

Now you know where the sites are. Some men will be arriving to your house/office/Starbucks location shortly to take you in for processing. While you are still free to peruse the internet, aren’t you curious about where all of these candid pictures of fossa and crested ibis are coming from? Check out All the Batteries for the next installment!

Don’t waste time writing a note to your loved ones.

And if you want to be hit in the face by coordinates, survey dates, IUCN statuses and stilted descriptions of study sites, click here!


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