Madagascar, Past and Present: Biodiversity, Extinction & Conservation

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Study Abroad in Madagascar!

If you have an interest in primates and biodiversity, and the challenges we face in balancing conservation and development, this could be the field school for you! You will:

  • Learn first-hand about the goals and methods of studying non-human primates, through observations of habituated wild primate groups.

  • Learn about lemur species that were lost to extinction already, and the forces threatening the species that remain.

  • Experience rural Malagasy communities and the unique challenges they face, which often conflict with developed-world conservation ideals.

  • Conduct independent research within one of these themes, following all the steps of field research: defining a project, formulating methods, data collection, analysis and presentation

 

sifaka

About the Study Abroad Program:

Sadabe is pleased to be working with faculty members at Northern Illinois University and the University of Antananarivo to offer this one-month, six-credit field school from June 13 - July 12, 2015.

Program Overview:

The primary purpose of this program is to provide participants with the opportunity to learn first-hand about primate biodiversity, extinction, forest fragmentation and conservation in Madagascar, one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hotspots. We will focus on building an experiential knowledge of (1) Madagascar’s existing biodiversity, especially its >100 primate species, (2) the 17 primate species that have been lost to extinction in the past few thousand years, and (3) the complexities and challenges of conservation in this third-world nation. This course is intended to expand upon students’ theoretical background in either primatology, biology, or conservation biology.

Students and instructors will begin the field school with an excursion to Andasibe, where we will see the iconic Indri and learn about the conservation and development activities coordinated by Mitsinjo. We will then work in Antananarivo, where we will have an opportunity to hear guest lecturers and observe fossils of the giant extinct lemurs. Students focusing on extinct lemurs will collect original data, while other students will observe captive and free-ranging lemurs (and practice data collection methodologies). Next, we will travel to Tsinjoarivo where we will spend the majority of our trip. Here students will see the lemurs that have been studied for 14 years, and apply ecological and behavioral sampling techniques as they work on targeted brief research projects in the surrounding forests. Finally, student groups will also learn about and participate in local conservation efforts and meet local community associations. After our time at Tsinjoarivo, we will visit Sambaina (a subfossil site on Madagascar's central plateau) and present research results at the University of Antananarivo.

About Madagascar and Tsinjoarivo:

Madagascar is a large island (sometimes called the eighth continent) located off the southeastern coast of Africa. Although often considered an “African country”, Madagascar was actually first colonized by people from present-day Indonesia, and the island is a true mix (in terms of culture, language and human genetics) of Southeast Asia and Africa. Madagascar has long been recognized as one of the world’s top 25 biodiversity hotspots (some conservationists consider it the world’s most important hotspot). It houses a stunning array of biodiversity, of which large proportions are endemic (found nowhere else in the world). Tsinjoarivo is a unique, high-altitude rainforest found at the escarpment dividing Madagascar’s central high plateau from its eastern lowlands.Tsinjoarivo is ideal for studies of forest fragmentation and disturbance because of the existence of an east-west fragmentation gradient over a distance of less than 15 kilometres.

Dr. Irwin has established three main research camps within the Tsinjoarivo region – this fields school will focus on Mahatsinjo camp, which is located at the centre of a network of forest fragments in the western half of the forest corridor – an area where human and nonhuman primate populations literally live side by side. Like most rural areas in Madagascar, economic and educational opportunities are few and far between, and public and environmental health is suffering. SADABE’s mission is to promote environmental health and the healthy coexistence of humans and wildlife at Tsinjoarivo.

Program Highlights:

1) See first-hand the world’s leading collection of subfossil lemurs at the Department of Paleontology & Biological Anthropology at the University of Antananarivo, and have the chance to participate in research projects using these rare specimens.

2) See first-hand rare and threatened Malagasy lemurs, such as the diademed sifaka, the aye-aye, and the greater bamboo lemur.

3) Experience how primatological research projects are carried out under field conditions.

4) Work alongside Malagasy students and research assistants.

5) Meet with and learn about local community associations in rural Madagascar, and the unique challenges they face in basic subsistence, health and education.

6) Visit and excavate at subfossil fieldsites in the Sambaina basin north of Antsirabe.

Program Audience:

Space is limited at 12 students (students need not be current students at NIU, as students from other accredited four-year universities may apply through NIU). Qualified applicants will be accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis. The content of this field course will be geared towards students interested in (1) Anthropology (especially, but not exclusively, physical anthropology and primatology), (2) Biology (especially those students interested in ecology, animal behavior and conservation, anatomy, paleontology and extinction), and (3) students interested in Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies. However, students from all majors would be welcome if a tangible link between their specialty and the course content can be established. Non-traditional students are welcome.

Photos from previous years: via Kristen Alldredge and SADABE

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