The island of Madagascar is famous for its strange collection of wildlife, its landscapes, and its unique ecosystems. It's a fact - no other place on Earth has such a unique blend of species!
This project's aims are to evaluate the biodiversity in this area and compare different habitat types. You will be compiling a species inventory which will involve carrying out surveys of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in the surrounding forests. Additionally, you will be mapping vegetation, levels of human disturbance and resource usage. You will learn surveying techniques and have a chance to contribute to the local community through education outreach days.
What's not Included
Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world with a landmass as large as Spain and Portugal combined. It is considered one of the most ecologically-rich countries because of its incredibly diverse landscape and numerous species of flora and fauna not found anywhere else on the planet. This is mainly due to the island's isolation from the African continent for millions of years.
Located in the northwest corner of Ambalahonko, the project takes place in the peaceful village which is home to only 40 households. Having just recently welcomed the project team into their community, the continuing and growing relationship will see volunteers and staff enjoy occasional Saturday night parties with the local residents and observe church and ceremonial gatherings. Plus, volunteers will have the opportunity to learn the native language and how to cook traditional cuisine.
The local weather: From May to October, temperatures typically range from 25-30°C during the day and 20-25°C at night, which can feel a bit chilly once you've acclimatized. The wet season is November to April and during this time the climate is very hot and humid.
During the initial weeks of the project you will learn basic ecological principles and methods, how to gather data, and become oriented with the camp area. This period will include both theoretical and practical work including a series of informative lectures, tests, opportunities to practice identifying species, and instruction on research techniques. Once all the volunteers have become familiar with data collection and the scientific reasoning, they will have the opportunity to design new projects.
Following training, your focus will be on surveys of plant and animal communities. This will include:
- Active searches for amphibians and reptiles. Survey the research sites both day and night, typically searching for chameleon, gecko, and snake species. Volunteers will be given morphometric data collection training as well as have the opportunity to handle all species found, and pin snakes. It is especially important to bring a high quality flashlight with batteries and cheap gardening gloves for these surveys.
- Pitfall and Sherman trapping. The project uses two live trapping techniques to sample terrestrial and arboreal small mammals and terrestrial frogs, snakes, and lizards. Pitfalls commonly catch frogs such as Stumpffia pygmaea, one of the smallest frogs in the world, and also the bizarre Rhombophryne testudo frog.
- Timed species counts for birds. Volunteers are trained in bird identification through training sessions using sound recordings and photos. Binoculars are optional but extremely useful, although the majority of birds are identified by call.
- Lemur behavior and surveys. In this phase you will determine different population behavior in varying forest types. The study will focus on the black lemur which you will observe them and record behaviors at six different sites. Responses to alarm calling from both individual and groups of lemurs will be compared using recordings. Additionally, the project will conduct both daily and nightly transects, listening for the territorial calls of cathemeral and nocturnal species found in the area.
- Casual collections. Casual observations of conservation target species, such as lemurs, have proved to be an important boost to the species list and previous volunteers have found the impromptu searches and sightings particularly rewarding.
During the project you will hike each day, along with other volunteers and staff, from the main campsite on the beach to remote locations in the forest to conduct your field work. You will directly contribute to important research, aiming to inform local government about how to manage the remaining forests and conserve their invaluable natural assets.
It's not all work, though! After a hard day in the forest you can always relax on the beach, snorkel in the crystal clear waters or play football with the local villagers.
Please take note of the project's minimum requirements:
- Minimum age 16, maximum age 50
- Good level of English
- Immunizations (consult with your doctor)
- Good physical fitness
Madagascar has spectacular natural beauty; it is home to thousands of plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. If you have time before or after your project, there are many travel opportunities, both near and far from Nosy Be. Some suggestions include:
- Ranomafana National Park
- Masoala National Park
- Avenue of the Baobabs
- Isalo National Park
A range of adventure and cultural activities like visits to remote villages and dive trips are also available. You can talk to the local staff teams to arrange these explorations with local providers and tour operators.
Scuba diving courses may be available (subject to availability of spaces and time constraints).