On this expedition, you will spend two weeks in the dry forests of Mahamavo. During the first week you will have lectures about Madagascar wildlife and conservation in the afternoons but for most of the time you will be rotating between a series of research projects. These projects include studies on the structure and composition of the forest, pollard counts of butterflies, spotlighting for amphibians, crocodile transect surveys, herpetofauna routes, bird point counts and mist netting, and distance sampling for lemurs (both day and night). In addition, there are other projects running such as colour change in chameleons, sifaka population studies, analysis of land change from satellite data, mark-release-recapture of nocturnal mouse lemurs and others that also require assistance from time to time.
Madagascar boasts some of the most spectacular biodiversity in the world: lemurs, tenrecs, baobabs and over half of all known chameleon species. Much of this biodiversity is endemic. The Operation Wallacea surveys are completing research on the dry forests and associated wetlands of Mahamavo in the northwest of Madagascar.
Madagascar has declared 17% of its land as protected areas, but much of this land is already severely degraded, so the actual area of land under protection is much smaller. An alternative approach to assigning protected area status and prohibiting usage, is to develop community managed areas such as Mahamavo, where there is a mosaic of protected and managed areas. DTZ, the German Technical Support Agency has established a series of community managed forests in the Mahamavo area that appear to be successful and may form the basis for conservation and improving livelihoods in other parts of Madagascar. The Opwall teams here are monitoring how the forest structure and biodiversity in these community managed forests are changing over time to identify whether this management strategy can provide a viable alternative to national parks in terms of protecting biodiversity.
The dry forests around Mahamavo have exceptional diversity with two species of diurnal lemur and another five to six species of nocturnal lemurs, two spectacular species of chameleons, three known species of leaf-tailed geckos, and many endemic birds. In addition to the forest work, the Opwall teams are also documenting the biodiversity value of the adjacent wetlands with a view to getting this area upgraded to Ramsar status (a Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention).
In Madagascar it is the dry season so it is hot during the day (temperatures between 25 and 30degrees Celsius) with extremely little chance of rain. During the evenings the temperature does drop to around 18 degrees Celsius with occasional cold spells getting as low as 14 degrees Celsius.
Fitness level required
Moderate. Most surveys require walking long distances, and although the terrain is relatively flat you will be walking mostly on sand.
Facilities are basic (tents, bucket showers, long drop toilets). The site has no phone signal or wifi.