Lemurs are little mammals found only in the forests of the island nation of Madagascar – and they are incredibly easy to love! What is less obvious is their close relationship with the future of trees in a land where, sadly, forests have often been leveled for short-term, gains. The lemurs are the victims. So are Madagascars impoverished citizens.
Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr. of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium explains that 90 percent of a lemur’s diet is fruit. Because of their enormous appetites, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals rapidly. Amazingly, this leaves behind seeds that have had their coatings removed through partial digestion but are otherwise intact. Dr. Louis has found that this produces seeds with a germination rate of nearly 100 percent, compared to only 5 percent of unprocessed seeds.
Thanks to the generosity of Arbor Day Foundation members, Rain Forest Rescue donations are being used to help residents and students collect these seeds for planting in nurseries that are being built in critical locations. It is all part of a plan devised by Dr. Louis and his colleagues to help restore the forests of Madagascar, provide habitat to save the endangered lemurs, and improve the economy and living conditions of local people.
We are creating a program that is sustainable, says Dr. Louis, head of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP).
It is providing jobs today and for the childrens’ future. It will also help Madagascar be less dependent on other countries, he says.
The low-cost, high-germination seeds are keys to the plan. So is what Dr. Louis calls the country’s
greenhouse-like climate. By building nurseries, people are employed and seedlings can be ready for planting quickly and economically. Through reforestation, erodible, denuded soil can be stabilized thanks to the growth rates of planted trees that sometimes measure ten linear feet a year or more. To encourage residents to engage in this better approach to their natural resources, incentives in the form of
conservation credits are offered. These can then be exchanged for life-changing items such as fuel- saving Rocket Stoves and Tough Stuff Solar Kits.
Areas to be planted are prioritized to provide corridors between existing blocks of remaining forests. This is to allow movement of animals and assure genetic interchange that is essential to providing healthy populations and ending the sad history of extinctions that has plagued the country. Another strategy is to stratify the planting areas. Dr. Louis explains that typically the top 50 percent of a mountain will be zoned for permanent trees. These help serve as a water reservoir to feed the streams that are vital to the nation’s rice fields. The next lower 35 percent of the mountain is planted with desirable timber species and managed for sustainable forestry. Rosewood, ebony and other valuable hardwoods are planted here for later selective harvest. Prompt replanting is part of the system to assure the continuous availability of forest crops without destroying wildlife habitat. The lower 15 percent is then devoted to fruit trees. Mangos, bananas, the popular litchi and others are planted for consumption or sale, as well as for sharing with lemurs.
While there is no simple solution to poverty and habitat destruction in Madagascar, the Biodiversity Partnership’s innovative plan offers a practical way to encourage communities to sustain themselves through the conservation of resources rather than resorting to short-term exploitation. Rain Forest Rescue is a supporting partner in this promising endeavor. Through member donations, Madagascar’s people and wildlife will benefit, ecotourism can be attracted, and some of the world’s great forests will be maintained for future generations. stop