Read Part One and Part Two of this series.
“Come here please. Come quickly!”
The urgency in Marie Razafindrasolo’s voice got us all running, for the 34-year-old guide had obviously spotted something we needed to see – a rare frog or chameleon or lemur or some other wonder.
A seasoned guide despite her relative youth, Marie belongs to the Guide Association of Andasibe which, in many ways, represents the future of conservation in Andasibe.
Last year, the reserve and park that adjoin Andasibe attracted approximately 26,000 visitors, a pittance compared to some parks in other countries and yet one of the two most visited protected areas in Madagascar and a promise of what may be on the horizon.
Tourism is an engine that drives conservation. Every Malagasy ariary spent on ecotourism benefits the community, and deepens people’s appreciation for the value of biodiversity, the ecosystem and the need to preserve habitat.
Old habits are hard to change, but community leaders increasingly recognize that continuing tavy will destroy habitat and squeeze out the animals that lure visitors.
LEARN MORE: Meet the Malagasy people of Madagascar.
“The revenue from ecotourism is huge here and goes mostly to local communities,” says CI’s Jeannicq Randrianarisoa, who works on sustainable financing schemes. Due to Andasibe’s natural riches, he adds, the Madagascar government is more likely to listen to local leaders on issues pertaining to forest preservation.
The Value of Biodiversity
“When the forest is re-created,” says Andasibe Mayor Abdoul Kader Ismael, “then it must be conserved.”
The mayor is well aware of the importance of reforestation and the carbon credit project in his community. In fact, the establishment of a carbon project without tourism might have been possible, but it would have taken longer.
“Biodiversity has real revenue value; it’s not as abstract as a carbon project,” says Randrianarisoa.
“The guides are making a very good income by taking tourists around,” says CI President Russell Mittermeier, who visited the region in January.
“If we don’t have local people benefiting from conservation projects, ultimately we’re not going to succeed. It can be a win-win. We can conserve these wonderful animals like the indri and the diademed sifaka and at the same time make a major contribution to improving the quality of life for local people. And, after following the evolution of the Guide Association of Andasibe from its very beginning and helping it in a number of ways, I am now very proud to say it has become a model not just for Madagascar but for many parts of the developing world.”
Andasibe now has three guide associations. One of the strongest NGOs in the area, Association Mitsinjo, evolved from a guide association.
Mitsinjo director Rainer Dolch said the evolution into a conservation project followed a natural path.
IN PHOTOS: Discover Andasibe, Madagascar
“Mitsinjo evolved as a community project from a guide association,” recounts Dolch. “The guides realized that you cannot promote ecotourism unless you conserve the biodiversity, so it became a conservation project. And you cannot do conservation without caring for the people. We have 45 members, but we have about 600 families that directly benefit from our activities.”
Maximizing the Potential
Dolch, Mitsinjo and CI recently hosted a week-long training session for about 30 guides from all over Madagascar. The course was presented by And Beyond, a South African tourism firm hoping to gain a foothold here. Graham Vercueil, one of the course instructors, said that the tourism potential of the island nation was virtually limitless.
“Madagascar as an ecotourism destination is fantastic,” says Vercueil. “Scenically it’s really beautiful. Such a high degree for biodiversity and unique endemic species to see here. It’s a huge industry to be exploited.
“I think that protection of biodiversity is essential – that is what is going to bring people here, and ensure sustainable income for people and sustainable protection for what lives here,” says Vercueil.
Connecting the benefits of the forest to people has been a prime task for Randrianarisoa, who recalls the wonder he first felt as a 12-year-old boy.
“My father was in the military and he brought us to some camps located in the wild,” he says. “There I encountered for the first time a lemur in the wild. I had only seen them in a zoo before. It really helped me love nature for what it was. My father spotted a brown lemur and we tried to follow it, but it was too fast.
“This is the kind of experience that is burned in your mind,” he says with a smile. “And when you see the tourists here, it’s like I felt when I was 12 years old.”
Capturing that feeling will help restore Andasibe for generations to come.
READ MORE: Growing Opportunity: Communities Find Incentives in Protecting Local Environments