The Black Lemur Forest Project, Madagascar
While completing her doctorate at St. Louis’ Washington University, British ecologist Josephine Andrews won the 1995 Whitley Award for her work with black lemurs in Madagascar.
Lemurs are unique to the island of Madagascar, having evolved without the threat of competition from other primates until the arrival of man on the island around A.D. 500. Since then, man’s appetite for hunting, ‘slash and burn’ agriculture and introduction of domesticated animals have all contributed to the extinction of 14 species of lemur.
Over 28 species and 40 subspecies remain in Madagascar’s shrinking rainforest, but as the human population expands and puts further pressure on natural resources, threats to the island’s wildlife remain critical.
While the lemur is symbolic of Madagascar, the black lemur (Eulemur macaco) has come to represent the north-west Madagascan island of Nosy Be, where Josephine initiated the Black Lemur Forest Project in 1991.
Focusing on the ecology of the lemurs in the forest habitats of Lokobe Reserve, Josephine and her British and Malagasy team undertook studies of the lemurs diet and behaviour, to understand the specific needs of the black lemur more fully. As Josephine has emphasised, her project research has been vital to developing a conservation strategy ‘to ensure the future of the black lemur and its rainforest habitat’ and to keep the endangered species from the fate of its already extinct cousins.
Educating the Malagasy population about the importance of black lemurs and their associated habitat became a central part of the team’s conservation strategy. In this respect, the project has been been responsible for training students in conservation practices, organising workshops in local school and education centres, and inviting school children to visit the field sites. An ecotourism project has also been designed to allow some funds from tourism to filter down to village communities close to the reserve.