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Conservation in Madagascar: An Exemplary Partnership between the Missouri Botanical Garden and Saint Louis Zoo



The Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo have a long history of working collaboratively on conservation projects in Madagascar, which is one of the world’s hottest hotspots for biodiversity.

Much of the collaborative work centers around Ivoloina, a small zoo and research station located on Madagascar’s East Coast. Ivoloina is a center for important research on lemurs, as well as breeding and educational facilities, and it also serves as a site for conserving threatened plant species.

Ivoloina is managed by the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group, which had a focus on the conservation of animals and marine life in Madagascar. The Zoo has long played a prominent role with this group. The Garden joined the group in 2006, prompting it to be renamed Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group, or MFFG, and to include plant research and conservation in its scope.

Located near Ivoloina is the Betampona Strict Nature Reserve, home to one of the last remaining areas of low-elevation rainforest in east-central Madagascar. Both the Zoo and Garden conduct research at this crucial site. Recently, Garden Curator Chris Birkinshaw and MFFG Research Director Karen Freeman received a large and prestigious grant from the U.K.’s Darwin Initiative to collect seed of endangered plant species from the disappearing tiny, highly-threatened forest fragments around Ivoloina. Seeds and cuttings of the many rare species found in these forests are now being grown in a newly established nursery at Ivoloina, ensuring their protection while also making them available for educational purposes and for reintroduction to help establish new wild populations.

Madagascar is home to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s largest international research program with more than 100 local staff members, all but one of whom are Malagasy. The Garden has had a sustained research presence in Madagascar since the 1970s, and established a permanent base there in the 1980s. Much of the Garden’s earliest work included the discovery, and description of the diversity of Madagascar’s unique but poorly understood flora.  This work continues today.

MBG’s conservation work began more than 15 years ago with the identification and assessment of priority areas for plant conservation, building on two decades of research, to identify key sites to complement Madagascar’s existing network of parks and reserves. Today the Garden’s conservation. Today, the Garden’s conservation work includes ex situ conservation efforts throughout the country, saving species that would otherwise be lost, saving species that would otherwise be lost by collecting and carefully growing live plants, along with a large in situ conservation program that protects the natural habitat at key sites of exceptional botanical diversity.

The Garden co-manages 13 newly-established protected sites in Madagascar that are jointly run with local communities. Without the Garden’s involvement, each of these sites would soon have been lost.

The Garden’s conservation work is done hand-in-hand with local communities, working toward creating more sustainable management of land, both inside and outside of the protected areas. In the past, agriculture was being practiced in largely unsustainable ways at the sites, resulting in continued deforestation and loss of natural habitats.  Malagasy staff play a decisive role in the Garden’s work, decision making, and representation of the program. Conservation is achieved using a science-based, holistic approach that focuses on improving livelihoods, education opportunities, and the health of the people in the community, while at the same time working to conserve biodiversity n a linked, integrated manned. This leaves communities better off than they were before while offering a brighter future by bringing them closer to achieving sustainable use of their natural resources.

While the approach to conservation initially developed by MBG is now more common in Madagascar, it was very novel and ground-breaking when the Garden first got involved. Other institutions took notice and began to draw inspiration from our work. This has in turn shaped how other institutions around the world undertake their work in conservation, expanding the impact of the Garden’s program far beyond Madagascar.