By Kelly Barker, Durrell's Head of Marketing
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Visiting Alaotran communities & Gentle lemurs at the lake
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Sunday 30th October
On our travels to Lac Alaotra we stopped off in a small town to buy some vanilla. Madagascar was the first country in the world to export vanilla, and also exports tea, cloves & lychees.
There’s so many smells in Madagascar, when we drive through villages you can either smell burning from slash & burn or cloves or vanilla for example. Malagasy people are so hospitable, whenever we stop off for food; they always make you feel very welcome. They give you huge portions of rice for very little cost. For example a dish of smoked pork with rice and a glass of rice water (traditional Malagasy drink) equals approx 2500 Ariary (approx 0.80p).
There are 20 million people living in Madagascar, an island of approc 587.000 kilometres. This isn’t over populated when you work out the number of people divided by the square km. Although a lot of people congregate to Tana and the other big towns.
I can’t believe how many young children there are. It seems that every young lady (maybe 14 or so and above) has a tiny baby that she carries around in a lamba tied around her body, which leaves her hands free. Then there are thousands of youngsters running amok. They at first stare at me, when they see me they are a bit stunned but when I say Salama (hello) and smile at them, they smile back. The children absolutely love it when I take their picture on the digital camera and show it to them. Then some of them strike a pose.
There’s really only one main way to raise awareness of the impacts on the environment for the Malagasy people through putting so much pressure on their natural resources, and that is by talking to them face to face. This is what Durrell does. Apart from the environmental festivals and competitions we help to organise, the Durrell team works hard to visit communities and find out about the difficulties they face, then tries to find solutions together.
I talked to Hasina about the objectives of the Durrell Malagasy team;
- Raise awareness
- Restore social cohesion that used to be part of Malagasy society (building schools/providing clean water/agricultural equipment) this makes them proud and motivates them
- Teach them to conform to the law by creating & legalising associations, so they are being taught good governance by Durrell.
12.20pm, still Sunday
The journey so far is relatively pain free. These roads are much smoother, although very windy. We saw a huge truck that had veered off the side of the road and turned upside down (ambony-ambany), (my new Malagasy words for today)!
Tonight when we arrived I was really pleased with the accommodation. It is clean and comfortable and even has a swimming pool. Ok, so you can’t see to the bottom and who knows what lurking in there but when you have been sitting inside a Landrover in 35 degrees, who cares.
We had Chinese food with Barry-Jean who is a real character- he laughs all the time and even though I don’t know what he’s saying, I find it hilarious.
Monday 31st October
There are at least 25 villages around Lac Alaotra! Barry-Jean works alone. 24 of them have CFL, 18 of them benefit from JOAC Funding, CFL who are the people we employ to monitor and report back. The lake is 200km around, Barry-Jean has looked after this project since 2004. Barry-Jean & CFL collect data such as number of gentle lemurs there are and Richard Young calculates it. The last estimate in 2005 was 7,000 gentle lemurs, they are critically endangered. Hunting used to be a big issue but this is ok now. The big problem now is fire (slash & burn).
Just a little info I have gleaned from Barry-Jean and Hasina as we sit and finish breakfast before heading off to the lake. We have to go in the car again though so we can get around as much of the lake as possible. I am getting so fed up of not walking anywhere and just being in the Landrover all the time but ‘Hey ho’!
We stopped at an incredibly poor village where JOAC (Jersey Overseas Aid Committee) provides funding to Durrell to help pay for a clean water well. We spoke with some CFL and filmed them talking about what they do and whether they like it. Hasina has been doing a great job at translating.
Also, Frankly, Hasina & Barry-Jean are practising their ‘What Durrell Means To Me’! They are really getting into it, I love it. We found a man in the village we stopped at, who manages 8 of the community associations and we are going to film him saying ‘What Durrell Means To me’ tomorrow.
Other pressures on the lake are overfishing, so many unemployed people fish. Locals can work in the rice fields and they get paid daily for that. In the north people also look for precious stones such as gold but employment is few and far between.
People re-plant the marsh every year and the surrounding associations try to protect it. 14 groups of lemurs have been found here. We met Mr. Manana of one village and he has driven this in particular because of his discipline. When we chatted to him, he told us about a recent group that had disobeyed the rules and burnt some of the marsh down, removing the sign that said ‘this is a protected area, do not touch’! Soon after the people responsible for this came to see Mr. Manana to apologise and see what they could do to make amends. He made them write down everything that they had done wrong. He also fined them and now he is reporting them to the agent for the Ministry of Forestry & Environment, no messing! It’s this discipline that is making this area a success.
On a separate note, you really can not keep clean in this country. The dust from the roads covers you all over. Your clothes get filthy, under your nails, up your nose and all over your face. This morning I had a lovely clean, white Durrell t-shirt on and now it is filthy. After 6 days in the country, I have a full bag of washing. So the red country turns you red as well.
16 villages are in the annual competition, the other 10 are too weak compared to those 16 at the moment, so Barry-Jean is working with those 10 to improve them, so they can be in the competition and qualify for prizes. They are really motivated to try.
The last village we stopped in for the day had a man called Mr Richard who was one of the first people who started working for Durrell on the Alaotran Project. He actually used to eat gentle lemurs believe it or not. They used to kill hundreds at a time and then smoke them to preserve them, so they would last a month or so but then Durrell came along and Mr. Richard said it changes his attitude. Also he had started to notice a big decrease in their numbers and now he is the president of the west federation who help protect the lemurs with us. He has a motorbike from the JOAC Funds that he uses to visit other villages to see how they are faring with their responsibilities on the project.
Tuesday 1st November
Yippee, we saw Bandro! We went into the marsh and saw a group of about 6/7 lemurs! I think that I got some pretty decent footage. I hope so. The only problem is, that meant I didn’t get any decent photos but Hasira did so we can use his.
We got pretty close and one had a baby on its back! Beautiful! I am so glad that I have seen my first wild animal.
We are all packed and ready to leave for Tana now, back to hotel Maison de Pyla and the Durrell office. It should take about 5 hours. I am looking forward to having wi-fi again and checking some emails as I know there will be hundreds! Also, I want to post an update to Facebook. There is only 70 minutes of spare video footage to last a week, so I have text Colm at the Jersey office to ask him how to delete some of the old stuff. I have to say though that my history with these things is not promising. Whilst on honeymoon, I managed to delete all our photos after ten days. Luckily though a camera shop in Jersey managed to retrieve most of them.
Still 2 hours to go, this is by far the hottest journey we have had in the Landrover yet. I am covered in dust from head to toe. My clean shorts this morning are filthy and I am dripping wet. How do people cope with this all the time? I seriously cannot wait to get to the hotel and stand under a cold shower for as long as possible. I am day dreaming about swimming pools, ice lollies and freezing cold milk. In fact, I haven’t had a cold drink since leaving Jersey as most people don’t have fridges in Madagascar.
Huh, 2 hours!! I don’t think so! The traffic getting into Tana is murder. It took an hour just to get 10 minutes! Anyway, we are at the hotel now and so I can chill.
Day 7 - Visiting Alaotran communities