Conservation Optimism Part 1 - Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar

Every day this week I will be sharing a story of Conservation Optimism from around the world – exciting projects led by passionate people dedicated to saving Earth’s precious wildlife. Our first stop is a very special place in southern Madagascar.

The Ring-tailed Lemur is perhaps the most iconic of Madagascar's animals. Tragically, their population has fallen by 95% since the year 2000. There are now more in zoos, where there are so many you could be forgiven for thinking they’re as common as squirrels.

Around 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been cut down, in large part due to the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture. This is a vicious cycle; repeated burning exhausts the soil and depletes water retention, killing the productivity of the land, so more forest is cleared. Lemurs are affected by habitat loss, but also hunting, as food becomes harder to come by.

There are only 8 remaining populations known to have more than 100 individuals, and one of these is Anja Community Reserve. In 1999, in response to local concern regarding forest degradation, a group was formed which created the reserve, and in 2012 went on to win the UN Equator Prize.

Starting with just 13 protected hectares, the reserve attracted tourists and scientists from around the world with their trails and guides. This ecotourism initiative has grown tremendously and now funds schools, health clinics and more, with 2500 beneficiaries in the community. The revenue has also allowed for investment in sustainable agriculture, increasing food security and forest-friendly sources of firewood. The reserve has been recognised as a leading model of community-based forest management in the country, and the lemurs – they’re thriving.