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Saving the Lost Forest of Madagascar

Madagascar

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  • Endangered Ring-tailed Lemurs. Photo by NRowe/alltheworldsprimates.org

The “Lost Forest” has been isolated from the eastern rainforests and western dry forests of Madagascar for hundreds of years. This secluded rainforest sits atop an extraordinary mega quartz massif unlike any other geological feature for hundreds of miles, which may contribute to its unique flora and fauna. In late 2016, Rainforest Trust and National Geographic funded a series of scientific expeditions – the first of their kind – into this biodiverse section of the African island. This expedition discovered numerous species potentially new to science and others that were previously known to occur in completely different habitat types. While the results are in the process of being analyzed, these new findings could reshape our thinking of Madagascar’s biodiversity and environmental history.

Future expeditions are planned, as it is clear that this truly unique forest is likely to host threatened wildlife and many species yet to be described. To ensure long-term protection for the region’s biodiversity, Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Malagasy Institut pour la Conservation des Ecosystèmes Tropicaux (MICET) to establish the 3,460-acre Lost Forest Reserve.

Biodiversity

  • Ring-tailed Lemurs. Photo by NRowe/alltheworldsprimates.org

This “Lost Forest” is a unique and intact primary forest that has fortunately avoided degradation, unlike almost all other remaining Malagasy forests. The first expeditions in the previously unexplored area supported by Rainforest Trust and National Geographic have potentially discovered a wealth of species never before known to science. Additional expeditions are planned in the upcoming months to further explore this incredible massif and ongoing research will help provide the evidence need to confirm which species are indeed found within this forest.

Preliminary herpetological surveys have resulted in a number of potentially significant finds, including what appear to be a number of species found within the rainforest that are normally associated with completely different habitats. If confirmed, these results would be entirely unexpected, as the species were thought to be restricted to areas hundreds of miles away from the “Lost Forest”.  Similarly, there are species that were thought to only be found in dry forest or sand dunes but may have been seen in this rainforest as well. With such potentially important discoveries, researchers are undertaking a thorough review of the species that includes genetic analysis to ensure the accuracy of these findings.

The occurrence of the Endangered Ring-tailed Lemur in the area is also extremely exciting because this shows that the species is living in rainforest habitat, whereas all other known Ring-tailed Lemur populations are found in much drier habitats. Other species within the area include a small lemur with a white tip on its tail (the research team is in the process of determining what species it is), and the Fossa, which is a cat-like carnivorous mammal endemic to Madagascar.

Challenges

  • Deforestation and uncontrolled fires present a risk to the Lost Forest. Photo by NRowe/alltheworldsprimates.org

This isolated rainforest is highly susceptible to uncontrolled fires set during long drought periods. These fires are created to expand the area’s grasslands for cattle grazing, threatening to encroach on this rich forested habitat. The mega quartz massif terrain has two major escarpments that serve as a partial natural barrier to fire, but there is an urgent need for protection to ensure that fires are not set around the massif that could jeopardize this forest. Local communities have recently reported to authorities deforestation in the area; this monitoring demonstrates their desire to keep the forest intact.

Communities

  • Community members assist with the expedition. Photo by NRowe/alltheworldsprimates.org

The local people are from the Bara ethnic group, whose community associations have asked to protect the forest. The Bara will always have a member on all planning, monitoring and evaluation committees, and the manager of this project will be a local Bara woman who has a Master’s degree in tourism. Over 300 signatures from community members have been collected in support of the project, and local authorities have expressed strong interest as well. Already, many members of the community are being employed by the project to help support expeditions. As the protected area establishment develops, more community members will be employed to help secure and manage the area.

Solutions

  • A village meeting is held to discuss conservation initiatives. Photo by NRowe/alltheworldsprimates.org

Rainforest Trust will work with partner MICET to establish the 3,460-acre Lost Forest Reserve in the region south of Ihosy, Madagascar. Three villages requested that this reserve be managed by MICET, and 20 rangers will be recruited to help with monitoring and patrols. MICET will work with the local, regional and national governments to gazette the borders and declare the Lost Forest a permanent protected area.

Future biodiversity surveys in the reserve will be coordinated by the Center ValBio (at Stony Brook University) and will help identify rare and endangered species. Workshops and training sessions will be given at CVB where there are 50 expert biodiversity technicians on staff. Headquarters will be built at nearby Analavoka and a research station will be built adjacent to the protected area. A species list will be created for the “Lost Forest,” and the population dynamics of all Critically Endangered and Endangered species will be studied.