Last Stand for Critically Endangered Trees in Madagascar
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Critically Endangered Sohisika tree. Photo by George Schatz.
Ankafobe Forest in northern Madagascar is one of the largest remaining fragments of highland forest that once blanketed the country’s mountainous landscape. With much of Madagascar’s highlands degraded due to fire-prone grasslands and eucalyptus plantations, this preserved forest is a testament to a rich, relict landscape where biodiversity still flourishes. This haven supports a number of endemic plant and animal species including the world’s most imperiled tree species, the Critically Endangered Sohisika. This highly threatened tree species was recently rediscovered in Ankafobe Forest. It is estimated that only 200 of these trees survive, and the preservation of this site could prevent the species’ extinction.
Rainforest Trust seeks $34,128 to help local partner Madagasikara-Voakajy create the 328-acre Ankafobe Forest Protected Area. Community engagement is crucial for the success of conservation in Madagascar, as local support is needed to manage protected areas in the long-term. Therefore, this project will be implemented in collaboration with community group VOI-Sohisika and the Missouri Botanical Garden with the aim of having this irreplaceable site designated as a permanent protected area.
Goodman’s Mouse Lemur. Photo by Hery Andrianiantefana.
One of the most threatened vegetation types in Madagascar is highland forest, and Ankafobe Forest is one of the last remaining fragments. This forest contains the Critically Endangered Sohiska, a tree that was thought to be extinct until its recent rediscovery within this landscape. Remarkably, this small relict forest is also home to outlying sub-populations of the Vulnerable Goodman’s Mouse Lemur and the Furry-Eared Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur. Although these lemurs’ sub-populations are small, genetic analysis shows that they are unusually diverse, perhaps because of the historic expansion and contraction of their forest habitat.
Wildfire burns native plant nursery. Photo by Andriantsalohimisantatra Andon'ny Avo.
Madagascar’s highland forests have been almost completely destroyed through the exploitation of timber, conversion of forest to agricultural land and wildfires. Currently, wildfires that started to clear the previous year’s dry grass remain the most imminent threat to Ankafobe Forest, in large part because there are no rangers patrolling and protecting this area.
Community members prepare land for reforestation using native trees. Photo by Chris Birkinshaw.
Rainforest Trust’s local partner is working with the community association VOI-Sohisika and the Malagasy Forest Service to protect the Ankafobe Forest. VOI-Sohisika, which has been managing the forest for 10 years, now includes 350 local people who participate in conservation activities such as maintaining firebreaks, planting seedlings of native trees and shrubs for forest restoration (including the Critically Endangered Sohisika), engaging in fire-fighting teams and providing services for researchers and tourists that visit the site.
Since the Highland region is a difficult place to attain a viable living, these community members are compensated for their work and also economically benefit through beekeeping and agroforestry initiatives. When finances permit, VOI-Sohisika also conducts environmental education activities for local school children, which are well-received by the students and their parents. The creation of this protected area will secure the well-established and mutually beneficial relationship between the local community and Ankafobe Forest.
Firebreaks successfully exclude wildfires from the forest. Photo by Chris Birkinshaw.
Rainforest Trust and local partner Madagasikara-Voakajy in conjunction with community group VOI-Sohisika and the Missouri Botanical Garden are working to designate the 328-acre Ankafobe Forest as a protected area to safeguard endemic species such as the Critically Endangered Sohisika tree. The designation of Ankafobe Forest as a new protected area fully recognized by the Malagasy government will ensure the long-term security of this irreplaceable site.
The management plan of the protected area includes investing in capacity-building initiatives and enhancing key activities that reduce the risk of wildfires. These activities include the creation of firebreaks, support of fire-fighting teams, installation of fire towers, increase of local awareness regarding fire safety practices and restoration of forest fragments previously impacted by wildfires through planting native tree species such as Sohisika.