In 2012, we started planting trees in the forests of Madagascar where as much as 80 percent of the island nation’s forests have been destroyed. Madagascar is considered one of the most diverse and ecologically important biodiversity sites in the world, yet the country’s landscape is fading because of poor agricultural practices. Many of the animals are on Endangered Species lists due to habitat loss and hunting, including the lemur.
Lemurs are exclusive to Madagascar and in 2009 the endangered black and white ruffed lemur population at Sangasanga Mountain was only eight. We partnered with the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium to advance reforestation led by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. The goal is to replant trees in Madagascar that will not only recover diminishing rain forests, but restore habitat. Lemurs play a key role in this initiative.
Ninety percent of a lemur’s diet is fruit. As a result of their diet, lemurs eat frequently and process their meals more rapidly. What does this have to do with trees? The seeds left behind from a lemur’s meal have their coatings removed, allowing for germination in the forest. In fact, the germination rate of seeds processed by lemurs is nearly 100 percent, compared to only five percent of unprocessed (or coated) seeds. Lemurs not only live off of the forest, but they’re replanting it too.
The seeds left behind by lemurs are then planted and cared for in nurseries until they are hardy enough to be planted on mountainsides. So far, 18 nurseries give a healthy start to native species including rosewood, ebony, canarium, and acacia. In addition, these nurseries give local residents jobs that were otherwise unavailable. Many of the people working in the nurseries are single mothers supporting their families. These women are able to take what they’ve learned and teach others about healthy agricultural practices, improving conservation in the region. The impact of the campaign speaks for itself.
As of 2015, the lemur population grew from six times what it was, with a population of 50. Forest trees are cultivated for mountainsides and fruit trees are planted to help curb hunger in surrounding communities. The trees are strategically planted to create wildlife corridors between fragments of lemur habitat, leading to a healthier, growing population. So far, nearly one million trees have been planted and more than 1,700 local residents are employed with the project as of this year.
Saving an endangered animal such as the lemur comes from the help of Arbor Day Foundation members. Though our work is gaining momentum and beginning to make a real impact, it is critically important that we continue to plant trees. And we need your help to make that happen. Visit Plant Madagascar to learn how you can restore the rain forest, save endangered lemurs, and change lives.