Mahamavo Region – Madagascar



Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Madagascar is an island off the southeast coast of Africa, well-known for its spectacular biodiversity.  Over half of all known chameleon species can be found here, as well as tenrecs, lemurs and baobabs.

Tenrec – By Frank VassenFlickr: Lowland Streaked Tenrec, Mantadia, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0
Coquerels Sifaka - photo by Dave Andrews.
Coquerel’s Sifaka – photo by Dave Andrews.

Many of the species found in Madagascar are endemic, meaning that they are not found anywhere else in the world.  This makes the region even more important, as medicines and other such uses may be sourced from plants here and nowhere else.  The unique beauty of the area is important to conserve, as we will never have a replica.

By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium - Lowland rainforest, Masoala National Park, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0,
By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium – Lowland rainforest, Masoala National Park, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0,



Mahamavo is located in the Northwest of Madagascar, and consists of dry forests, wooded grassland-bush land mosaic and several large mangrove areas on the coast.  It is located in the region of Mahajanga at an average elevation of 469 feet above sea level.  Mahamavo is sparsely populated at 23 people per mile and the greatest natural threats to the area are droughts and cyclones.  The warmest month is October, with an average temperature of 33.9˚C at midday and coolest is July with an average of 16.9˚C at night.  The temperature is relatively constant all year round, though it does decrease significantly at night.  August has on average the greatest amount of sunshine, peak rainfall occurs during the wet season in January and dry season occurs around June.  The climate in Mahamavo is humid and classified as a tropical savanna with a tropical dry forest biozone.

Photo by Frank Vassen -
Photo by Frank Vassen –

These forests and wetlands hold incredible diversity, Diurnal lemurs such as Coquerel’s Sifaka and the Common Brown lemur are present in this area, as well as 5-6 nocturnal lemurs.

Common Brown Lemur By David Dennis - originally posted to Flickr as Brown Lemur in Andasibe, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Common Brown Lemur By David Dennis – originally posted to Flickr as Brown Lemur in Andasibe, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Two notable species found in the Mahamavo region are Oustalet’s and Angel’s chameleon.

Oustalet's Chameleon by Dave Andrews
Oustalet’s Chameleon by Dave Andrews

  The wetlands in the region are home to the critically endangered Madagascar fish eagle and the endangered Humbolt’s heron.

Madagascar Fish-Eagle

Fossa are carnivorous cat’s endemic to Madagascar, found in the Mahamavo region, as are Uroplatus geckos.

By Chad Teer - originally posted to Flickr as [1], CC BY 2.0,
Fossa By Chad Teer – originally posted to Flickr as [1], CC BY 2.0,
Uroplatus ebenaui - Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko by Dave Andrews
Uroplatus ebenaui – Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko by Dave Andrews

The Madagascar flying fox and the Nile crocodile are also found in the Mahamavo region.

Madagascar Flying Fox - By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
Madagascar Flying Fox – By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
Crocodile in Madagascar.
Crocodile in Madagascar.

Vegetation found in Mahamavo forests include Commiphora, Dalvergia, Hildegardia, Fernandoa madagascariensis, Croton elaeagni, Alchornea perrieri, Dalbergia spp., Euphorbia stenoclada  and Delonix spp.  Biogeographically the Mahamavo region is located between Northern and Western species pools, this results in a wealth of incredible species being present, but as always there is still so much more to be discovered.


Euphorbia stenoclada

Threats to Mahamavo

Threats to Mahamavo, including the Mariarano and Matsedroy forests, include fire, climate change, coal production and the expansion of agriculture.

Logging in Madagascar
Logging in Madagascar

Human activity is present in the Mahamavo region, particularly the Mariarano forest where communities rely on the forest for food, fuel, building materials and medicine.  The wetlands are used for fishing, which is the main resource for the coastal communities present.

Slash & Burn in Madagascar - By Diorit - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Slash & Burn in Madagascar – By Diorit – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Human populations in the Mahamavo region are found in the Dry forests, such as Mariarano, where several thousand people reside.  Subsistence farming is common here, where rice, maize and manioc is grown, and Zebu is kept.  Sources of income include mat-weaving, raffia palm harvesting, charcoal production and forest resource extraction.

Rice Paddies in Mariarano - By Jenni Lucy
Rice Paddies in Mariarano – By Jenni Lucy

The most common fuel in Madagascar is wood and charcoal.  This means that charcoal production is in high demand, which has caused large scale deforestation.  Although forest fires are illegal, there is little official enforcement.  Many local villagers may value the natural forest highly, but outsiders are known to come to the forests to produce charcoal.  Local people have little power or incentive to prevent this, and a fear of conflict acts as a deterrent. In order to produce charcoal a license is required.  However most people involved in charcoal production in these areas are unaware of the need for licensing, and as there is little official presence it is of no concern.  There are no charcoal plantations in the Mahamavo region, meaning that it all comes from the burnt forest itself. The current production of charcoal is not sustainable in Mahamavo, particularly as dry forests regenerate very slowly.


Timber extraction also causes huge problems for the conservation of forests. The wood is sold as construction materials.  Yam is often grown in burnt forest clearings, preventing forest regeneration.  Slash-and-burn techniques are used to clear pastures for Zebu as well as crops.  Agriculture and Livestock contribute 60-80% of the income for the local population.

Zebu in Madagascar
Zebu in Madagascar

As there are no land rights in Madagascar, if a farmer’s land becomes drained of nutrients and is therefore no longer fertile, then the farmer has permission to clear an adjacent piece of land, usually done through the slash and burn technique, wherein vegetation is first cut and then burned before planting begins.  The same applies for zebu grazing.

Slash & Burn in Madagascar - By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium - originally posted to Flickr as Slash and Burn Agriculture, Morondava, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0,
Slash & Burn in Madagascar – By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium – originally posted to Flickr as Slash and Burn Agriculture, Morondava, Madagascar, CC BY 2.0,

As well as the obvious habitat loss caused by the slash and burn technique, it can also result in the death of animals which are unable to outrun the fires.  The knock on effects of slash and burn include soil erosion and decreased land fertility.

Slash & Burn shifting cultivation in Madagascar – By Leonora Enking from West Sussex, England (Slash and burn agriculture) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lemur hunting occurs in the forests, with the most common target being the common brown lemurCoquerel’s sifakas are not hunted as local populations believe it to be fady (taboo) to do so as they have some very human-like features.  However immigrants to the area rarely follow this rule and hunting still occurs.  Lemur traps are used for hunting, and are indiscriminate as to which species they capture.

Coquerels Sifaka by Dave Andrews
Coquerel’s Sifaka by Dave Andrews

Darts and blowpipes are used to hunt birds such as Helmeted Guinea fowl.  Madagascar fish eagles are hunted by stealing the young and using them as bait to lure the adult into a trap.  The African Darter and Nile crocodile are also hunted in the wetlands around Mariarano.  Feral cats and dogs may be involved in competition with endemic species, resulting in the over-predation of smaller mammal species found in the forests.

Helmeted Guinea Fowl By Steve from washington, dc, usa – did you call me??, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Any species that causes damage to a farmer’s crops is seen as a pest, this includes lemurs which eat from fruit trees.  This can result in traps being set out, as most farming in the Mahamavo region is subsistence farming, therefore there is a thin line between having enough food for the whole family and having to go without.

Mouse Lemur – By Arjan Haverkamp – originally posted to Flickr as 2007-07-15-12h53m31.IMG_1008e, CC BY 2.0,

How do we Protect an Area such as the Forests of Mahamavo?


  • Provide educational facilities focusing on sustainable agriculture and use of forest resources.
  • Develop alternative livelihoods, for example sustainable charcoal production which would protect the forest, improve soil in degraded areas and provide a stable income for locals.
  • Reduce the consumption of charcoal through the introduction of cleaner and fuel-efficient cooking stoves. This would also reduce the incidence of disease arisen from fuel, reduce the destruction of forests and decrease the cost of living.
  • Introduce alternative energy sources such as solar power.
  • Establish research stations to implement and maintain management efforts.
  • Develop small-scale ecotourism to provide constant employment in the area, as well as increase the incentive for locals to protect the forests.
  • Utilise local culture to benefit conservation. Fady (taboo) differs between villages;  in some areas, when the head of the village dies they are buried in the village grounds, then the entire community ups sticks and settles in a new area.  The area where the former monarch is buried then becomes sacred, and no one may enter it.  In this way, various regions on Mahamavo are protected through Fady. 

Barriers to Implementing a Conservation Plan

Many locals simply are not aware of the international value of many of their native species.  Over 70% of Madagascar’s population reside in rural areas, and only 3% have access to electricity, thus resulting in biomass being their main source of fuel.

Rural Mariarano - by Jenni Lucy.
Rural Mariarano – by Jenni Lucy.

Education on the importance of species found in the region is very much needed, because if the global significance of Madagascar’s ecosystems and their inhabitants are unknown to the locals, it is difficult for them to take pride in protecting their native regions, or to feel the urgent need of this protection to happen.  Many locals, being unaware of the protected status of certain species, do not know that they are committing a crime when certain animals are hunted.  It is important for the region to have educated citizens on the status of their immediate environment, protecting the area.

Research staff and assistants visiting the local school in Mariarano.
Research staff and assistants visiting the local school in Mariarano.

I will be travelling to the Mahamavo region in June 2016 in order to aid with this important research.  I will be investigating the abundance of important endemic plant species in the area, and how their proximity to local populations, soil pH and climate impacts their growth.  In this way my research will help to advise which areas are of most value to conserve in the region.  I will also be using this research for my third year Bioscience undergraduate dissertation, as I hope to go into a tropical forest ecology research career in the future, with a key focus on botany.


If you would like to read more about what I will be doing, or are interested in supporting my project, then please visit one of the link below.

Below is a video from Operation Wallacea, who I will be undertaking my research with.


[getty src=”604576321″ width=”508″ height=”339″]

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The Fight for Yasuni National Park – Ecuador

“If we can’t justify saving a place that has more species per square inch than anywhere else on the planet, then what hope is there for anything?  What then do we keep?  What then can we save?” – Dr Kelly Swing of the University of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador.

Scroll to the very bottom of the article to see how you can help.

Yasuni National Park

About Yasuni National Park

The Yasuni National Park is a pristine area of Amazon rainforest which covers 70,000 hectares in Ecuador.  It has been declared as the most biodiverse place on Earth; scientists say a single hectre of land in Yasuni contains a larger variety of life than that of the whole of North America.  New species are being discovered everyday; leaves that work as contraceptives, berries that make soap and plants that ‘walk’ to follow the sunlight.  Incredibly, in December 2012 Yale University undergraduates discovered a mushroom with the ability to ‘eat’ polyurethane plastic.  This could revolutionise landfills, it could change everything for us.  We must not underestimate the values, properties and abilities of the inhabitants of these areas of which we know so little about.  The imagination must have no limits when it comes to the incredible things this planet and its residents can do.

The Situation

Unfortunately, in 2007 oil deposits worth $7 billion have been located right beneath this gorgeous natural habitat.  The state-backed oil company Petroamazonas, one of the biggest oil companies in South America, wish to exploit this resource.  If the excavation of this oil goes ahead, not only would it destroy one of nature’s most beautiful gifts, it would also release 400 million tonnes of climate changing gases into the atmosphere.  In order to extract the oil from Yasuni wells, ports, pipelines, roads and villages would need to be built.  This would create more damage and destruction to the environment as well as increased pollution and waste.  Once a road is built through a rainforest to supply an oil exploitation, waves of timber companies and bushmeat hunters follow.  This is a massive burden to an extremely fragile ecosystem.  Huge amounts of water would need to be injected back into the earth which would lead to the pollution of vast areas of land.  The oil that would be extracted would last the world for 10-11 days, yet the damage to Yasuni would be irreparable.

Location of Yasuni

The Fight

It was reported on the 13th January 2013 that the people of the Amazon were not about to give up their home without a fight.  Around 400 people from villages within Yasuni were preparing to fight back against not only the oil company, but the Ecuadorean army which was to join them.  The people of the Kichwa tribe, whose land covers ¼ of Yasuni, stated that they were prepared to fight to the death to protect their territory with their accumulated arsenal of machetes, blowpipes, spears, stones, sticks and guns.  Petroamazonas informed the fighters that they would begin their experimental drilling and excavation of the area on the 15th of January 2013.  The community was given a financial offer from the oil firm, which they chose to turn down due to their concern over the long-term environmental impact of the mining on the rainforest.  The Sani Islanders say they will stand shoulder to shoulder to protect their land against the better armed and trained military, though they are scared they are determined.  The villagers say they will not start conflict, but attempt to block the enemy and what happens after that, will happen.

On the 17th of January 2013, it was announced that the Ecuadorian tribe would no longer have to go into battle.  The Kichwa tribe of Sani Isla, where the tribe are located, informed the media that Petroamazonas is still trying to secure exploration rights in the pristine Yasuni.  The fight will now take on a rather different form, as a battle in the judicial system and the court of public opinion.  The indigenous peoples appeal for an injunction went before a judge on the 16th of January 2013.  They are looking for a long-term economic alternative to the soon-to-be-dead industry of fossil fuels.

On the 29th of March 1967, the Gulf and Texaco oil company discovered vast oil reserves in Ecuador.  In the first years of exploitation, the oil allowed Ecuador to develop.  It built hospitals, schools and roads.  However, as Albert Acosta (former oil and mines minister of Ecuador turned radical ecologist) says:

‘The reality is that oil has not brought development.  It has helped our infrastructure, but it has brought us immense contamination and environmental destruction.  Oil has not solved the problems of Ecuador.’

It was while Acosta was working as the Oil and Mines Minister that the discovery of oil beneath Yasuni National Park was made.  Instead of sending out immediately for the oil companies, Acosta realised the sacrifice of the pristine rainforest was not a worth it sacrifice, and not one that would make Ecuador sustainably more developed.

The Plan

Albert Acosta is the man behind the revolutionary plan to save Yasuni, and create the blueprint for future options to conserve other pristine environments around the world.

Ecuador is a country that needs investment and wants to increase its development.  Every developed country (e.g. UK, USA, Australia etc..) has gone through a period of dirty industrialisation and devastating mass-scale exploitation of their natural resources.  It is time to change this process.  We have the technology and ability to enable less economically developed countries to develop and grow without having to sacrifice their natural green wealth, so vital to humans and to science.

The plan is to leave the oil in the ground.  However, Ecuador cannot afford to let go of billions and billions of dollars.  When an entire country wants to develop there is only so long they can put the beauty of their country above the needs of the people.  So in return for protecting this rainforest, which is a part of humanity all over the world, The Ecuadorian government is asking for $3.6 billion to be given over a 13 year period.  Significantly less than what they could get if they decided to exploit Yasuni for oil.  Ecuador knows that oil is unsustainable and that they must look further down the line into the future of the country and find a sustainable source of wealth.  95% of Ecuadoreans want Yasuni to be preserved.

Bird in Yasuni


Critics have accused Ecuador of holding the world to ransom.  However, this is wrong.  Consider this small scale example;

If someone abducts your child, and demands $36,000 or they will kill them, then the kidnapper is said to be holding you to ransom.  If however, your child gets lost in a foreign country which for some reason has no transport out of it (stay with me here, don’t worry about how the kid got there in the first place) and is found by a random stranger who can’t afford to feed, clothe and do all those other things that guardians need to do for your child, what would you do?  You can’t just relocate your child elsewhere, to a country more convenient for you (because they have no transport out the country remember) so all you can do for the time being is transfer however much money is required to enable the stranger to look after your child and give them as good a life as you would have, given the chance.

So, in referring back to this (potentially poor) analogy, if Ecuador were simply holding the world to ransom they could have simply said hey, we have $7 billion worth of oil beneath one of the most pristine, beautiful, biodiverse and scientifically interesting places on the planet.  Give us $10 BILLION and we won’t ruin it.  But they didn’t.  They asked for half, they know they need to grow but they know they can’t do this without either the help from those countries who are better off and able to help, or without exploiting an environment for oil which they have made extremely clear that they do not want to do.

Except for Petroamazonas.  The bastards.

ITT Yasuni – ITT stands for Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini respectively, which are the oil deposits Petroamazonas are looking to exploit. The Yasuní-ITT initiative is the proposal to raise $3.6 billion for Ecuador so that they do not have to exploit Yasuni.

The Support

So far this scheme has received massive amounts of support from all over the world.  The UN has set up the ‘Yasuni fund’ which appears to be a success; Germany has donated $50 million, national, regional and local governments, individuals, companies and institutions in Europe, Japan and the US have also donated money to the fund.  And don’t think that these countries are just chucking money Ecuador’s way and letting them do what they will with it, no.  It is being administered by a trust to develop renewable energy projects and to be invested in conservation projects.  So far, the Yasuni fund has received $300 million in donations.  Not bad world, not bad at all.

Green Vine Snake Yasuni by Geogg Gallice
Green Vine Snake Yasuni

Yasuani Green Gold Campaign

The Yasuni Green Gold Campaign was set up by The indigenous peoples of the Yasuni in order to improve the proposal for the Yasuni Fund in order to safeguard the future of Yasuni.  As well as the Kichwa tribe, also residing in the forest are the Waorani and Shuar, as well as the Tagaeri and Taromenane who voluntarily maintain no contact with the rest of the world.  These tribes have been living i harmony with nature for centuries, that should not stop now.  Whilst the campaign gives its full support to the Yasuni Fund, they have identified flaws in the proposal, such as the fact that it still leaves Yasuni vulnerable to future exploitation.  They are calling for an improvement of the proposal, including for the Ecuadorian Government to commit to unconditionally conserving Yasuni, allowing the local and indigenous peoples of Yasuni to participate in the decision-making and finally, make sure that no parallel agreements are made in the future that can conflict with the preservation of Yasuni National Park.  To read more on Yasuni Green Gold, read their book here (you can even pay for one to be sent to a politician!).

To support this refining of the proposal, please sign the petition here  In the UK, we can put pressure on our government by emailing the appropriate MP’s, these are and who are the secretarys of state for Energy and Climate Change, and International Development respectively.  Here is an example of an email you can send  There is a whole wealth of other ways in which you can issue your support, just go to there is something for everyone no matter how busy.

Common Woolly Monkey by Geoff Gallice
Common Woolly Monkey

History Teaches us Lessons that we do not want to Repeat

In the 1970’s, oil giants Texaco set up their base camp in the oil-rush town of Lago Agrio.

The Beautiful forests that once filled this area are now nowhere to be seen.  Lago Agrio and the surrounding areas are now an ecological and social disaster.  Between 1964 and 1990 the company (allegedly) spilled around 17 million gallons of crude oil and purposely left 20 billion gallons of drilling wastewater in the area.  Lago Agrio is now a polluted industrial mess of guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and criminal gangs feeding in from across the Colombian border.

Lago Agrio by Julien Gomba
Lago Agrio

A large number of residents of Lago Agrio spent 20 years suing Chevron (formally Texaco) to clean up the forests.  The residents won $18 billion in damages!  But in typical oil-company style, Chevron has decided instead to not do the decent thing.  They have not paid up.

In Shushufindi, a town where Chevron used to dump oil and which is now a refinery, there is no forest left, it is completely destroyed.  If you go to swim you swim in oil, if you want to breathe you struggle.

Lago Agrio by Aperture
Lago Agrio

Other Links

A  scientific paper on the Global significance of Yasuni national park

UNESCO’s page for Yasuni

A blog on Yasuni

Ways YOU Can Help

  • Donate money to the Yasuni Fund at
  • Write protest letters to Petroamazonas at
  • Sign the Yasuni Green Gold Petition Here
  • In the UK, write to the MP’s to encourage them to put pressure on our government to support Yasuni and the Kichwa people. and who are the secretarys of state for Energy and Climate Change, and International Development respectively. You can find an example email here
  • Go to and chose at least 1 way in which YOU will support the native tribes of Yasuni in their cause to save the rainforest.
  • Visit the Kichwa peoples lodge and promote their Sani Isla area
  • Donate money to the Kichwa peoples schools and projects
  • Volunteer as teachers and provide funds to students enable them to travel overseas, and learn what the community needs to survive in the future
Convict Treefrog by Geoff Gallice
Convict Treefrog

At the end of the day, I do truly believe that everybody needs to have something that they are willing to die for.

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