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Volunteering with Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership

Brittney Vezina 1509897_10152689719823963_6368467484384198218_n

Brittney Vezina worked as a reforestation volunteer in 2014 with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. During her time with the organization, she helped undertake important reforestation and outreach programs and joins us to describe the moments that most stood out to her. Brittney graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. She loves all things animal- and nature- related and these interests have lead her to pursue a career in conservation. Despite her time in Madagascar, she still feels that she can do more work there, and is currently job hunting and researching graduate schools…so that she can continue to fight to save lemurs in 2016 and beyond! She can be contacted at bvezina@alumni.uoguelph.ca.
 

My interest in working with lemurs has only recently been in development over the past year, but my love for wildlife and nature has been lifelong. It was early in 2014 that I was on the hunt for a conservation-related volunteer experience abroad. Madagascar had always been on my bucketlist of countries to visit-the abundance of unique species that can be found no where else in this world is like no other. So naturally I jumped at the chance when offered a position on a reforestation project with the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP). What a perfect way to truly experience Madagascar while also contributing to much-needed conservation initiatives. Little did I know, I was about to fall in love with this country and never want to leave!

Brittney Vezina 10924692_10152689720303963_4659544660442963287_nVolunteering in Kianjavato, Southeast Madagascar

For those of you who do not know, MBP has multiple sites across Madagascar. I was volunteering at their site in Kianjavato, in the southeast. The Kianjavato area has been largely affected by slash and burn agriculture, or tavy, over the years but still has multiple small forest fragments which are home to 9 different lemur species. As a reforestation volunteer, I was working with the local community to grow and plant trees towards the building of a wildlife corridor to re-connect the forest fragments. My everyday work involved a lot of physical labour from collecting and sowing seeds to moving seedlings and planting trees.It also involved a lot of one-on-one work with the local community. The locals were involved with every aspect of the Reforestation project; from the nurturing of the seedlings to the digging of the holes and planting of the trees.

Brittney Vezina 1653561_10152689721928963_4195131309495759648_nTackling Lemur Habitat Loss with Reforestation

Working alongside the Malagasy is what gave me a greater appreciation for the difficulties facing lemur populations. It was clear that habitat loss was one of the major threats from day one. I will never forget my drive from Antananarivo down to the field station. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s one thing to read about how little of Madagascar’s forests are left (about 10%), but to see it is another thing. It was about 13 hours of barren hills with the odd trees and many rice fields and villages. I breathed a sigh of relief once reaching Kianjavato and seeing that, yes, forests and lemurs do still exist in Madagascar. However, these forests are still under extreme threat of disappearing from multiple sources, one of which being the traditional tavy agriculture.

Brittney Vezina 10392462_10152689733093963_6674311400263786607_nI remember have wonderfully inspiring days planting trees with children from local schools. Afterwards we would assist with a lesson on the importance of the forests to their community and the lemurs followed by a chance for the children to tell us why they are planting trees. Inspiring messages such as ‘saving my country’s treasures’ to ‘teaching my parents not to disturb the forests and lemurs’ were what made the physically grueling days worth it. There was the odd day, however, when I would go up to my tent at night and see a fire blazing in the distance, and my heart would sink.

Education about the Importance of Lemurs, the Forest, and Alternative Livelihoods

The importance of education cannot be overlooked in the fight to save the lemurs. Education not only about the lemurs, the importance of the forests, and the damaging effects of tavy, but also education on alternative ways to obtain their food and make a living. MBP employed groups of single mothers who would work half-days in each nursery. Many of them told us that before MBP came along, they struggled to feed their children everyday. How can one expect a country to put protecting their forests as a priority in their life when many of them struggle to make it through each day? They need our support.

Fortunately for the people of the Kianjavato commune, MBP—in partnership with Conservation Fusion—aims to not only educate the community but also to provide technologies such as rocket stoves to help alleviate pressures on the forests. Experiencing the poverty first-hand really showed me how important community-based projects, such as MBP, are to the protection of Madagascar’s incredible biodiversity.

Brittney Vezina 10982458_10152689732673963_5519533480405763709_n Brittney Vezina 10151817_10152689723373963_2865505340059459682_n

Assisting with Lemur Research

Although a lot of my time in Madagascar was spent in the field planting trees, I also had the opportunity to spend plenty of time in the forests assisting with lemur research! MBP‘s field station in Kianjavato also hosts many international and local academics who are studying Madagascar’s fascinating wildlife. From the elusive Aye aye and Fossa, to the Critically Endangered Greater Bamboo lemur and Black and White Ruffed lemur, I was constantly reminded of the amazing creatures we were working so hard to protect.

Saving Lemurs

Saving the lemurs is going to require addressing the root causes of habitat degradation, and so non-profit community-based organizations such as MBP need our help. From volunteering our time to donating money, anything we can do to help their organizations help the local communities is a step in the right direction.

Now sadly I am back home in Canada but I am eager to continue the efforts in protecting Madagascar’s wildlife with the hopes of beginning a Master’s project in the near future, because we are stronger together!

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