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My endless love story with Lemurs and Madagascar (part 2)

Our guest blogger today is Domoina Ranjatoelina, a Malagasy who grew up in Antananarivo, Madagascar and now lives in Canada. In this blog post, Domoina would like to create more awareness, love around lemurs and her home country: the island of Madagascar. 

Dear Fellow Lemur Lovers,

My name is Domoina Ranjatoelina and this is my second article on Lemur Conservation Network’s blog. It took me a while to write this second blogpost, as I was traveling quite a lot lately and wanted to gather enough pictures and information from my travels.

One of my favorite shots I recently took was this Malagasy sunset. Isn’t this gorgeous?

Stunning sunset in Madagascar. Photo credit: Domoina R.

Lemur species: Sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi). Photo credit: Domoina R.

I shared my first blogpost on my social media last time and got really good feedback on it. As I mentioned, it is a great opportunity for me to write and share my views on conservation and travel experiences on this platform, as I would like to create more awareness and love around lemurs and my home country: the island of Madagascar.

Creating awareness means educating others on issues that matter. Conservation is one that really matters to me and should matter to the rest of the world, especially in this era of climate change.

One of my sources of inspiration is Nelson Mandela with his quote:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So keep learning and keep sharing wherever you are and wherever you go!

Conservation in Madagascar versus Conservation in Canada

As I mentioned, I originally come from the capital city of Madagascar: Antananarivo (or Tana). Here is a nice view of my home city:

Antananarivo, capital city of Madagascar. Photo credit: Domoina R.

Tana is where all the major financial, administrative and business headquarters are. It is home to a few parks and gardens, that are unfortunately not so well maintained. There is just a small place for greenery in this city and I feel that urban populations are totally disconnected from the environmental issues occurring on the other parts of the island, which is really sad.

Most Malagasy people are aware of the unique richness and biodiversity of Madagascar, but only a few realize that conservation should be part of their daily routines.

Living in Harmony with the World and the Environment

I am an advocate of environmental programs in schools’ curriculum, along with civic education since it was apparently removed from Malagasy public school curriculums a few years ago. We hear a lot about being a “global citizen” in the world, which involves living in harmony with the world community and the environment. This concept should be taught everywhere, in both developing and developed countries.

Now I live in Vancouver, Canada. In the last blogpost, I shared my thoughts on Vancouver Zoo, but one of the things I love most about Vancouver is that conservation efforts are visible at the individual, local and community levels. There are strict rules about recycling and sorting trash. You get fined if you get caught not following these rules. This system is intended to make each individual responsible and accountable of his/her own actions, which I find great. I also love the community gardens in different areas of Vancouver, where anyone can just grow vegetables and fruits. The City of Vancouver’s initiatives like these ones are amazing!

Witnessing Some Harsh Realities in Madagascar

I come to Madagascar to visit my family and friends every time I can. Since I have been living abroad, I have started to feel a bit disconnected from the realities of Third-World countries, including my home country, Madagascar. But, one thing I could clearly see is that the the local municipalities were not doing their jobs there, which is sad. I remember how hard it was to daily witness extreme poverty in your surroundings. Madagascar has 90% of its population living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day (source: World Bank, 2013). No one can be insensitive to all that.

I really had hoped that things would have improved over the years in Madagascar, but basic infrastructure (like healthcare, road conditions, education), traffic in big cities, poverty and security levels all need drastic improvements. In western societies, our problems are what we often call “first-world problems”. It is only when you have fulfilled your basic needs (food, shelter, safety) that you can then really focus on other society’s problems.

My Love for Madagascar

However, despite all these problems, Madagascar will always be my home country and I will always love it for so many things, especially for the kindness of Malagasy people, Madagascar’s unique wildlife and the beauty of its scenery!

We need to preserve what is left, which includes the remaining lemurs and other rare species. It is our role as human beings and as global citizens to strive to make a difference, wherever we end up going in life. At least, this is the mission I am setting for myself and I hope many of you readers will do so as well.

Places You Can Spot Lemurs Near Antananarivo

As I don’t get to go very often to the coastal areas of Madagascar where it might be easier to spot lemurs in the wild, I though it would be useful to share a few places in my home city and its surroundings.

Literally, Antananarivo means “the city of the thousands”. Historically, there were around one thousand soldiers defending Tana during the Queens and Kings era. Here is a picture I recently captured of the Queen’s palace in Antananarivo.

Rova Queen’s Palace in Antananarivo. Photo credit: Domoina R.

My own interpretation is that it is now the city of the thousand hills, because there are many valleys and mountains surrounding it.

Visiting Antananarivo

If you are a visitor and are only planning to spend a short period of time in Tana, this list and respective links might be useful:

  • Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park (in Tana): in my last blogpost, I wrote an article about this park, which is situated in the city of Antananarivo. Here is its facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tsimbazazoo/
  • Lemurs Park (25km from Tana): This 5-hectare estate, bordered by the Katsaoka River, currently hosts 7 species of lemurs from different regions of Madagascar, but also other key species of Malagasy fauna and flora. Here is their website: https://www.lemurspark.com/
  • Andasibe-Mantadia National Park (3.5 hour-drive from Tana): Andasibe is a lush rainforest located in the Alaotra Mangoro region. It is “a protected area composed by Mantadia and the Analamazaotra Special Reserve. Andasibe Mantadia Park is home to 108 bird species, 114 lemur species, 84 amphibian species and 51 reptile species, including Boa manditra. Mantadia is also a refuge for orchids, endemic plants of Madagascar. There are a hundred species of orchid to admire all year! Andasibe is also known for its beautiful waterfalls and the famous Indri Indri, the largest lemur in Madagascar that you can observe at any time of the year (Source: voyage-madagascar.org). One interesting thing to know about this park is that there are important rivers for electricity production. This park is worth the trip if you have a bit of time. You can visit their website at: http://www.parcs-madagascar.com/aire-protégée/parc-national-mantadia

There might be other spots I did not list here, but here are the main ones I have been to and would recommend.

Nahampoana Reserve, Fort Dauphin (or “Tolagnaro” in Malagasy) 

This month of June, I had the opportunity to go with a friend of mine to Fort-Dauphin (or “Taolagnaro” or “Tôlanaro” in Malagasy), a city located on the southeast coast of Madagascar.

We visited the Nahampoana Reserve, a 50-acre patch of land with a few species of lemurs including the Lemur Catta, the Sifaka, the Fulvus Colarus, the Brown Lemur and the Bamboo Lemur.

There are also a few nocturnal lemurs like the Microcebus in that park, but we only did the day-tour so we did not see that species of lemur. I love that reserve because it is so lush and well maintained.

We had so much fun watching them, but some were more difficult to spot than others. I only managed to get a distance shot of a Brown Lemur, as they all seemed to want to stay away from humans. Here are a few of the shots I managed to get:

It is so wonderful to spot lemurs in the wild. They look so much happier and healthier free than kept in zoos.

Important Tips on Recycling and Conservation 

Actions can and should be undertaken at the individual level in Madagascar, since there is no concrete action from the government with regards to conservation. Each individual has the power to make a difference in its environment and community.

Here are a few tips I am sharing with you. This applies to me when I am in Madagascar, but also overseas:

  • Eat local and organic: If you live in a place, and when you travel, try to always eat local to contribute towards local economies, instead of consuming what big corporations and big food chains sell. Some tourists do not dare to eat local due to fear of food poisoning or just lack of trust. I find it unfortunate, because they miss out on trying out the local cuisine. In my various trips, I have always tried to eat local food from reliable vendors or restaurants. It does not need to be fancy; simple, but fresh and clean do exist! If you travel, try to go to local hotels instead of big hotel chains as well.
  • Support local entrepreneurs: local businesses usually have the most innovative and better quality products and services you can’t find when buying from big brands. A trend is starting to grow in Madagascar with female entrepreneurs. I personally think that Madagascar should empower more women in business, but also in other fields like politics. Entrepreneurs can become the catalysts of change in an economy, because they bring innovation, can challenge the system and can, to an extent, influence mentalities.
  • Recycle plastic containers: try to reuse every single plastic container you buy or get. Avoid single use products. At home, reuse things. Maybe you know the 3Rs principle: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Bamboo straw and exotic Malagasy food. Photo credit: Domoina R.

In Madagascar, plastic containers are often reused by homeless or disadvantaged people if you throw them in the trash. They usually use them to collect water, store foods or resell them.

  • Buy a water bottle: instead of buying plastic bottles, get yourself your own water bottle you can carry throughout the day. Some bottles can be personalized to your taste. Remember to drink at least 1.5L to 2L of water per day to stay healthy.
  • Prefer alternatives to plastic: I was so excited to find a few eating places in Antananarivo that have started bamboo straws.

Plant trees, flowers or anything green you can plant, whether it is in your garden or somewhere in your neighbourhood. I do that in my parents’ garden for example.

My homegrown tomatoes in Tana (Madagascar). Photo credit: Domoina R.

  • Compost everything that is organic: I was so happy to see my aunt and uncle starting composting their organic trash in their homes and using it as soil fertilizer. I did that do in my parents’ gardens and it works! We usually use all the fruit and vegetables peels, ground coffee after it is used, egg shells, etc. Actually, you can compost anything but dairies and meats.
  • Do not litter and pick up trash: “Do not litter” might be something you hear a lot, but might not apply every time. Picking up trash might be tricky in Tana where there are tons of garbage that sometimes does not get taken away by the State. However, you can try to do it at a smaller scale first and educate people if you catch them trashing.
  • Donate or volunteer in organizations that really take actions in the field, like Lemur Conservation Network. Here is a link to what you can do with them: https://www.lemurconservationnetwork.org/how-to-help/

My Visit to the Johannesburg Zoo 

Johannesburg Citysightseeing red bus. Photo credit: Domoina R.

I traveled to Johannesburg (Joburg) in South Africa in May to write an exam. I went for one week and got really excited about that trip, because I had the chance to visit the city of Joburg thoroughly. I took the hop-on-and-hop-off red bus that tourists usually take in big cities (I remember going on one of them in London as well).

It stops at most important landmarks and historic places, so that you can get a sense of how the city was structured and is now organized. Johannesburg is a vibrant and busy city.

I used to live in Port-Elizabeth and Cape Town. I stayed in South Africa for an overall of 4 years, I loved it! It is very different from Madagascar: the fauna and flora especially, even though these two countries are not that far apart on the map (just separated by the Mozambique channel).

Sandton in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo credit: Domoina R.

First place I wanted to stop at was the Johannesburg Zoo to check out lions, zebras, hippos, but also to find out I they had lemurs. I don’t like zoos (as they put animals in cages), but having them is important because they help create awareness around world endangered species. I found a few lemurs in cages and I immediately noticed that the premises were way better maintained than the ones at the Tsimbazaza Zoo in Antananarivo (please refer to my first blog if you want to learn more about my visit at the Tsimbazaza Zoo).

I noticed these tiles on the ground near a lemurs’ cage. I found them really nicely done, therefore I captured them too:

Lemur-patterned tiles spotted at the Johannesburg Zoo. Photo credit: Domoina R

Malagasy Culture and Events 

Finally, I would like to share a bit about Malagasy culture and events.

Canada has Canada Day on July, 1 (same concept as in the US on July, 4).  It is a big celebration, when people go to the streets to eat from food trucks, watch the fireworks and have some (or a lot of) drinks with friends. In my last post, I mentioned that I have been living in Canada for 4 years now (almost 5 this year).

“Arendrina” sold on the streets of Antananarivo. Photo credit: Domoina R.

Madagascar has its Independence Day on June 26th each year to commemorate its independence from France in 1960. Families will walk around the city to display their lantern, eat street local foods (meat skewers with peanut sauce are the best!) and watch the fireworks.

Lots of these colourful paper-made lanterns (usually round, but can come in other shapes). called “arendrina” are sold in the streets for kids to light them up with a candle inside during the night of the celebration on June 25. They are I remember how fun that moment was when I was a kid: streets will be so beautifully decorated when all the lanterns are lit. It is also a special family time or, for the loners, an opportunity to party.

If you happen to be in Madagascar on that special day, I would advise you buy yourself an “arendrina”, join the march and enjoy the Malagasy energy on that day. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, Malagasy or a foreigner, an adult or a child on that day. It is always a fun event to participate in!

Thanks so much for reading my blogpost. Thanks also to Lemur Conservation Network for sharing it and for their amazing work.

Warmest regards from Madagascar,

Domoina

Shot taken at the entrance on Nahampoana Reserve in Fort-Dauphin.
Photo credit: Domoina R.