MWC publications


Update on the management of Park Bandro and population numbers of Hapalemur alaotrensis

Summary: Park Bandro constitutes a special conservation zone of 85 hectares within the larger New Protected Area (IUCN category V) at Lake Alaotra. In 2013, Ratsimbazafy et al. estimated a sub-population of more than 170 Alaotran gentle lemurs (Hapalemur alaotrensis) in the park. Our recent reassessment of park boundaries revealed that only 43 hectares of the original park remain. Almost 20 hectares have been “deforested” in the boundary area, and in the middle of the park, an additional 23 hectares have been turned into off-season rice plantations. Here we adjust the Hapalemur alaotrensis sub-population estimate within Park Bandro to 40–80 individuals. This estimation is based on the 2-hectare-average territory size of small groups (ca. 2 individuals), and the 5-hectare-average territory size of large groups (ca. 9.5 individuals; Mutschler et al., 2001; Waeber and Hemelrijk, 2003). The last lake-wide census from 2005 reported 2,500 individuals (Ralainasolo et al., 2006); if a high conservation zone such as Park Bandro has been undergoing such substantial changes, it is likely that the total H. alaotrensis population around Lake Alaotra is now well below 2,000 individuals.


Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur Hapalemur alaotrensis (Rumpler, 1975)

  • By Lena M. Reibelt, Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Patrick O. Waeber
  • In: Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2016–2018.
  • Edited by Schwitzer C, Mittermeier RA, Rylands AB, Chiozza F,Williamson EA, Macfie EJ, Wallis J, Cotton A. Arlington, VA: IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group (PSG), International Primatological Society (IPS), Conservation International (CI), and Bristol Zoological Society. pp. 32-34.
  • Available at:

Summary: This contribution presents the biology, ecology, and conservation threats and efforts for the Critically Endangered Hapalemur alaotrensis. The lemur description includes body characteristics, feeding behavior, activity pattern, and social behavior. Hapalemur alaotrensis is restricted to the marshes of Lake Alaotra, which are legally protected as a Ramsar site and Protected Area. The principal threats to the lemur are habitat loss, habitat degradation, and hunting. In the 1990s, the total population was estimated at 7,500–11,000 individuals; in 2005, it had shrunk to an estimated 2,500 individuals. The highest density of H. alaotrensis is sheltered in the high priority conservation zone and tourist focal area, Park Bandro. Further subpopulations are found in the southwestern marshes of Lake Alaotra; subpopulations in the northern parts of Lake Alaotra have likely disappeared. Given the alarming rates of habitat destruction and the related collapse of lemur population numbers, habitat restoration and the reconnection of isolated subpopulations will be priority conservation actions for the years to come.


Contact matters: Local people’s perceptions of Hapalemur alaotrensis and implications for conservation

  • By Lena M. Reibelt, Lance Woolaver, Gabrielle Moser, Ihoby H. Randriamalala, Lucile M. Raveloarimalala, Fidy B. Ralainasolo, Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Patrick O. Waeber
  • International Journal of Primatology 2017, 38(3):588-608.
  • Available at:

Summary: Understanding factors that influence local community support for conservation projects is critical to their success. Perceptions of wildlife are particularly important in countries where people rely heavily on natural resources for their survival, as is the case in Madagascar. Renowned as one of the “hottest” regions for global biodiversity, Madagascar hosts an exceptional assemblage of lemurs. Yet little is known concerning the knowledge and perceptions of local people toward lemurs. The Lake Alaotra gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis) is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and restricted to marsh habitat in the Lake Alaotra New Protected Area. Habitat destruction and hunting have brought the lemur to the brink of extinction. In this study we characterize local people’s knowledge, awareness, and perceptions of Hapalemur alaotrensis. We conducted an initial survey with 180 participants in 6 villages with varying distance to Park Bandro, a high-priority conservation zone. During a second survey, we interviewed 50 people in the village adjacent to the park. Our findings demonstrate that fishers are the most knowledgeable local resource users despite having the lowest education levels, and they also are the most concerned with the endemic lemur’s decline. There is a link between environmental awareness and distance in both a literal and figurative sense; the more often people encounter Hapalemur alaotrensis, the more they know about it, and the more likely they are to be concerned about its future. Our study further shows that despite this concern, subsistence is prioritized over conservation in the Alaotra region. Ecological knowledge in the fishers’ communities is a valuable resource that can benefit the conservation of Hapalemur alaotrensis and its marshland habitat if conservation planning and management can align the resource users’ concerns and livelihood needs with biodiversity values.


Tool development to understand rural resource users’ land use and impacts on land type changes in Madagascar

  • By Lena M. Reibelt, Gabrielle Moser, Anne Dray, Ihoby H. Randriamalala, Juliette Chamagne, Bruno Ramamonjisoa, Luis Garcia Barrios, Claude Garcia, Patrick O. Waeber
  • Madagascar Conservation & Development 2017, Early View.
  • Available at:

 Summary: A majority of Madagascar’s rural people depend on the primary sector. The country’s agricultural hub, the Alaotra-Mangoro region, is mainly tied to fisheries and rice production. Increasing human population and decreasing output from fisheries and agriculture are pushing the rural resource users further into the protected marshlands. Understanding rural farmers’ decisions can help developing improved management plans to support long-term functioning of (socio-) ecological systems. We present here an example of inter- and transdisciplinary research which uses a participatory modelling approach to develop a shared vision of the Alaotra socio-ecological system. The purpose of this study is to introduce the used gaming approach in detail by documenting the process of co-construction of the Alaotra wetlands’ conceptual model. We then describe how the model is transcribed into a table-top role-playing game that will help researchers and stakeholders alike explore and understand decisions and management strategies. We finally report on first outcomes of the game including land use decisions, reaction to market fluctuation and landscape change.


Malagasy conservationists and environmental educators: Life paths into conservation

Summary: In a globally fast-changing world, dedicated conservationists play a central role in societies moving towards the achievement of sustainable development. How do people become advocates for nature? Research suggests that childhood experiences in natural places are core determinants for the development of environmental stewardship. In many developing countries, however, access to intact natural environments is limited. This study explores formative influences on individuals who actively contribute to nature conservation and environmental education (EE) in Madagascar. We conducted nine semi-structured interviews with participants in a national EE workshop. Formative experiences were reported mainly from university years, and influential persons were researchers and high school teachers, many from abroad. The media also play a considerable role, while negative experiences, familial influences, or experience of natural areas during childhood were rarely mentioned. In contrast to former studies, the results suggest that direct experiences of nature can still be decisive in determining a young person’s path as a dedicated environmental practitioner during young adulthood. Role models who are active in the conservation and sustainable development fields can compensate for a lack of familial models. These findings might require a rethinking of current educational practices in Madagascar because children might not be the only important group to target with educational interventions.


Perception of change: Narratives and strategies of farmers in Madagascar

 Summary: Farmers in the Anthropocene are exposed to drivers of change stemming from multiple sources, sometimes distant from their immediate neighbourhood. These socioeconomic and environmental interactions over distances are referred to as telecoupling. How do they impact the rural communities in developing countries? How do poor farmers perceive change and react to it? This study explores these questions with rural communities of Madagascar’s Maningory watershed. We use the Q methodology, developed for the quantitative study of subjectivity in order to investigate the perception of change of these farmers and their reactive behaviour to perceived stresses and shocks. Participants recognise experiencing changes stemming from a wide variety of areas of their lives, from decreasing quantity of rain to increasing school fees. The five resulting factors from the Q method illustrate a large panel of possible behaviours in the face of change, potentially linked to different levels of vulnerability amongst farmers. Participants appear to largely adopt reactive measures and are often left to their own devices. A lack of human and social capital forces them to tap into the natural capital within their grasp, increasing the pressure on natural ecosystems and their resources. A stronger involvement of governmental institutions could in part alleviate the situation. Increasing risk awareness as well as strengthening knowledge exchanges and experience transfer that take into account resource dependency and gender differences is recommended to increase the resilience of the socio-ecological system.


Play, learn, explore: grasping complexity through gaming and photography

Summary: Increased demand for agricultural products, the aspirations of rural communities and a growing recognition of planetary boundaries outline the complex trade-offs resource users are facing on a daily basis. Management problems typically involve multiple stakeholders with diverse and often conflicting worldviews, needs and agendas, in an environment with growing uncertainty. How to improve the flow of information between decision makers? What future landscapes will best resolve the apparently conflicting demands? To address these questions, our methodology has been based on participatory modeling and ‘ethnophotography in environmental science’, a term we have coined to describe our use of photography to explore the perceptions of landscape by resource users. We apply these coupled methods in the social-ecological landscape of the Alaotra, Madagascar. Within the realms of the AlaReLa (Alaotra Resilience Landscape) project, we have developed conceptual models that link actors, resources, norms and institutions, ecological processes and social dynamics through participatory modeling workshops. These involved farmers, academics, conservationists and decision makers. Recognizing and understanding the multiple linkages and feedback loops between all of these components and processes is a crucial first step in the design of socially acceptable strategies. In this paper we highlight the interaction of participatory research and photography, to show how they exchange and nurture each other, and how this approach allows the evolution of a common understanding of a social-ecological system.

Local awareness and perceptions: Consequences for conservation of marsh habitat at Lake Alaotra for one of the world’s rarest lemurs

  • By Patrick O. Waeber, Lena M. Reibelt, Ihoby H. Randriamalala, Gabrielle Moser, Lucile M. Raveloarimalala, Fidy B. Ralainasolo, Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Lance Woolaver
  • Oryx. 2017:1-10
  • Available at:

 Summary: Management and monitoring of community-based protected areas in Madagascar remain challenging because of a lack of financial, human and technical resources, and capacity. At Lake Alaotra, conversion of marshland for rice cultivation and a lack of effective habitat protection have pushed the locally endemic Alaotra gentle lemur Hapalemur alaotrensis to the brink of extinction. The highest density of the species is found in the locally managed Park Bandro, a high-priority conservation zone within the Lake Alaotra New Protected Area. We evaluated local awareness and perceptions of Park Bandro, and discussed preferred management options with local communities. Two questionnaire surveys were carried out, one with 180 participants at six sites around the lake and marsh, and another with 50 participants in the village adjacent to Park Bandro. The majority of participants knew of the existence of Park Bandro but most did not know its purpose or size. Values and perceptions of local communities were influenced by occupation and distance to the Park, with fishers being most aware of the Park. We found that local people had a high level of environmental awareness and were willing to discuss zonation and alternative resource management strategies as long as these activities could provide a tangible livelihood benefit. Lack of awareness among local resource users regarding the purpose and status of protected areas such as Park Bandro is a challenge that needs to be addressed, and one that is relevant for environmental education and management of protected areas throughout Madagascar.



How Effective Have Thirty Years of Internationally Driven Conservation and Development Efforts Been in Madagascar?

Summary: Conservation and development are intricately linked. The international donor community has long provided aid to tropical countries in an effort to alleviate poverty and conserve biodiversity. While hundreds of millions of $ have been invested in over 500 environmental-based projects in Madagascar during the period covered by a series of National Environmental Action Plans (1993–2008) and the protected areas network has expanded threefold, deforestation remains unchecked and none of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established for 2000–2015 were likely be met. Efforts to achieve sustainable development had failed to reduce poverty or deliver progress toward any of the MDGs. Cross-sectorial policy adjustments are needed that (i) enable and catalyze Madagascar’s capacities rather than deepening dependency on external actors such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and donor countries, and that (ii) deliver improvements to the livelihoods and wellbeing of the country’s rural poor.



Scenarios of biodiversity exploring possible futures for management

  • By Claude Garcia, Anne Dray, Sigrid Aubert, Lena M. Reibelt, Patrick O. Waeber
  • ESSA-Forêts, Akon’ny Ala 2015, 32(1):1-14.
  • Available at:

Summary: Problems of natural resources management are often wicked problems. They involve multiple stakeholders with different worldviews, different needs and agendas, in a world with pervasive uncertainties. The answers to such problems are not technical fixes but political processes that engage the stakeholders in problem solving iterative loops. In many cases, deforestation and degradation are the rational choice, not the result of a lack of awareness or knowledge. Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into production landscapes thus requires careful consideration of the drivers, needs and constraints of farmers. Participatory modeling approaches such as Companion Modelling (ComMod) help to understand the drivers behind landscape transitions and explore with the stakeholders the plausible livelihood and environmental impacts of a policy change. While the underlying driving ecological processes can be modeled based on expert knowledge and published scientific literature, the actual elements of the system, the key actors, resources, and their interactions, are defined together with the stakeholders. The resulting conceptual model can then be transformed into a Role Playing Game for validation. In a second phase the validated model can then be used to explore alternative futures, navigating the complex and multiple feedback loops that changes in the policy and institutional framework can have on the individual strategies of the stakeholders. Knowledge brokers can then use the results of these scenarios to feed discussions and highlight potential avenues for change, embedding the research in the decision making process at different scales. This article will illustrate the approach with two case studies from the tropical landscapes from South Asia and Madagascar.


Lake Alaotra wetlands: how long can Madagascar’s most important rice and fish production region withstand the anthropogenic pressure?

Summary: The Alaotra wetlands represent the biggest lake and wetland complex in Madagascar and are home of several endemic species. The region constitutes the largest rice production area and inland fishery of Madagascar. Rice and fish are the main local sources of income. While the population has increased fivefold during the last 40 years, the growing need for resources is continuously increasing the pressure on the wetland system. In this study, vegetation and water parameters were collected within three sites differing by level of degradation in order to evaluate the current ecological state of the wetland. The results show that high levels of ongoing anthropogenic disturbance are favoring the formation of a new plant community in the fringe area of the marsh belt. This area is now dominated by invasive species such as the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) which shows a mean coverage up to 53% and water ferns (Salvinia spp.) with a mean coverage up to 31 .4%. Lake water levels were very low and decreased during the dry season to a mean level of only 3 cm in the littoral zone. Signs of eutrophication like hypoxia (mean saturation of only 22%), increased phosphate concentrations (1 .1 8 mg L-1 ) and black colored, foul smelling water were observed. Under a likely scenario of growing anthropogenic pressures, it remains unclear what the current trends will bring for the wetland’s future.


Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), any opportunities for the Alaotra wetlands and livelihoods?

Summary: Species invasions are one of the world’s most severe conservation threats. The invasive water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is one of the most troublesome plants in the world. It appears in over 50 tropical and subtropical countries. This plant species causes several ecological and socioeconomic problems affecting ecosystems and local livelihoods. The water hyacinth occurs in the Alaotra wetlands encompassing the largest lake of Madagascar. The Alaotra region is renowned as Madagascar’s bread basket as it is the biggest rice and inland fish producer. The current study collected socioeconomic data from the Alaotra wetland stakeholders within three locations around Lake Alaotra to contextualize local livelihoods and to identify the drivers and barriers for the utilization of this plant. Methods of control seem to be unrealistic due to institutional and financial limitations in Madagascar. Using the plant as fertilizer, animal fodder or for handicrafts seems to represent a feasible alternative to improve the livelihood of the local population. However, local concerns about livelihood security may hinder acceptance of such new alternatives. Providing information as well as financial and technical support to local stakeholders may help encourage the use of the water hyacinth in the Alaotra region.


Ten years into the marshes – Hapalemur alaotrensis conservation, one step forward and two steps back?

Summary: Natural resource management problems typically involve a multitude of stakeholders with diverse sets of needs and interests, and often conflicting worldviews in an environment with growing uncertainty. Such problems are termed “wicked” problems, where there are no right or wrong solutions, only more or less acceptable ones. In the case of Lake Alaotra, growing agricultural pressures have a negative impact on the wetland biodiversity and especially on the Alaotra gentle lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis) restricted to these marshlands. The species survival is highly uncertain because of increased habitat loss caused mainly by marshland fires. The conservation work for this unique lemur is complex and complicated and requires the involvement and collaboration of decision-making institutions, NGOs, universities and riverine communities. From the inception of projects to their implementation phase, all parties need clearly defined responsibilities and transparency in communication in order to run projects successfully. This article describes the approach that Madagascar Wildlife Conservation has been implementing during the past ten years at Lake Alaotra, discussing the plan of action and challenges for environmental education, ecotourism and alternative livelihoods.


Conservation Messages in Speech Bubbles–Evaluation of an Environmental Education Comic Distributed in Elementary Schools in Madagascar

Summary: In this paper, we present the results of a survey of an environmental education program applied to a cohort of 542 students in six primary schools at Lake Alaotra, Madagascar. The educational materials used were a comic book and additional materials designed specifically for local conditions in rural Madagascar. The comic book conveyed mostly system knowledge and, to a lesser extent, action-related knowledge. The additional materials posed practical tasks to students and were meant to stimulate teamwork and group discussion of students. There was a control and two treatment groups. A questionnaire was applied to test students’ environmental knowledge at three different points in time. The survey showed a significant increase in environmental knowledge of students receiving environmental education compared to controls. This effect significantly increased with additional education materials fostering peer-to-peer learning by students instead of when teacher-centred learning was provided. Students that used those materials also had the highest scores in tests one year after environmental education ended, thus indicating the usefulness of innovative and locally meaningful materials in environmental education.



Environmental education in its infancy at Lake Alaotra, Madagascar

Summary: Madagascar is renowned for its unique biodiversity but also for the continuous degradation of its natural environment and its high poverty rate. In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental education has been assigned a key role. In the lake Alaotra region, Madagascar’s most important rice and inland fish production area, primary schools are the sole formal education for the majority of the population. In order to gain an overview on the education of ‘tomorrow’s’ resource users, this study assessed the general state of the school system and of environmental education in particular. The focus was on understanding local definitions of environmental education, its application and local perceptions of environmental problems. Over 50 in – depth interviews were conducted using the Funnel approach with teachers from 18 public primary schools. The interviews were supplemented with focus groups and a participatory problem analysis workshop. Teachers in the Alaotra region provided a different definition of environmental education than the United Nations. Their focus is on social aspects rather than the actual problems of the natural environment, which represents a different point of view than non – governmental organizations (NGOs) from abroad, who are the main promoters of environmental education in the area. This indicates that education for sustainable development might be more suitable in the region than the currently promoted environmental education. When developing educational programs, it is important to include the teachers in the development processes to ensure inclusion of local views and needs. This will increase the probability that such programs are locally meaningful and useful.



Gone in a puff of smoke? Hapalemur alaotrensis at great risk of extinction

  • By Jonah H. Ratsimbazafy, Fidimalala B. Ralainasolo, Antje Rendigs, Jasmin Mantilla-Contreras, Herizo Andrianandrasana, Angelo R. Mandimbihasina, Caroline M. Nievergelt, Richard Lewis, Patrick O. Waeber
  • Lemur News 2013, 17:14−18.
  • Available at:



Conservation education in Madagascar: three case studies in the biologically diverse islandcontinent

Summary: Few Malagasy children and adults are aware of the rare and unique fauna and flora indigenous to their island-continent, including flagship lemur species. Even the Malagasy ancestral proverbs never mentioned lemurs, but these same proverbs talked about the now extinct hippopotamus. Madagascar’s geography, history, and economic constraints contribute to severe biodiversity loss. Deforestation on Madagascar is reported to be over 100,000 ha/year, with only 10–15% of the island retaining natural forest [Green & Sussman, 1990]. Educating children, teacher-training, and community projects about environmental and conservation efforts to protect the remaining natural habitats of endangered lemur species provide a basis for long-term changes in attitudes and practices. Case studies of three conservation education projects located in different geographical regions of Madagascar, Centre ValBio, Madagacar Wildlife Conservation Alaotra Comic Book Project, and The Ako Book Project, are presented together with their ongoing stages of development, assessment, and outcomes. We argue that while nongovernmental organizational efforts are and will be very important, the Ministry of Education urgently needs to incorporate biodiversity education in the curriculum at all levels, from primary school to university.



Comic strips as environmental educative tools for the Alaotra Region

Summary: The Alaotra Gentle Lemur (Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis) is one of the most endangered lemurs of Madagascar. The wild population struggles for survival in the rapidly disappearing papyrus marshes fringing Lake Alaotra, northeastern Madagascar. The current estimated population size of the Alaotra lemurs is about 3,000 individuals. The largest subpopulations left are found in the marshes around the four villages of Andreba, Ambodivoara, Andilana Sud and Anororo. These sites constitute the main focus of Madagascar Wildlife Conservation’s (MWC) environmental education project. In a test phase lasting from November 2006 – February 2007, eight primary school classes will implement a series of educative comic strips dealing with the complexity of the Alaotra lake and marshy ecosystem. The aim of this teaching method is to raise the awareness of the schoolchildren about the importance and significance of their natural environment.