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Do lemurs love chocolate? Conservation International funds new study to understand primate use of cacao plantations in Madagascar

December 12, 2016

Led by Bristol Zoological Society — with the support of Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla, a company that single-sources its cocoa and vanilla from Madagascar and works directly with cocoa farmers — the research will build upon local farmers’ anecdotal evidence of lemurs using cacao plantations in the northwestern region of the island.

“With 94% of primates in Madagascar threatened with extinction, it is vital to understand the interface between people and primates in increasingly fragmented landscapes, for the future development of sustainable cacao farming and the conservation of biodiversity in Madagascar,” said Curan Bonham, Conservation International’s director of project monitoring and evaluation who oversees Conservation International’s Verde Ventures program, which is funding the study. Verde Ventures was established in 1999 to boost small and medium-sized businesses that support human well-being by protecting the important services — like fresh water, food, energy and more — that communities receive from healthy ecosystems.

The interdisciplinary research team, from Bristol Zoological Society and UWE Bristol, brings together a wealth of experience. Through interviews with plantation owners, vegetation inventories, animal surveys and behavioral observations, bioacoustic monitoring, and the use of camera traps, the researchers aim to identify which lemurs are present on two cacao plantations near Ambanja, where 88% of potential species are classified as threatened — and understand lemur behavior in these human-dominated spaces. Core habitats will also be mapped, which will enable a preliminary assessment of preferred habitat for the different lemur species (e.g., are they found more often in fruit trees, native trees or cacao) and how this connects with surrounding vegetation.

“This study is important as it will help us to understand how lemurs cope in fragmented habitats and could aid the development of habitat corridors,” said Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, Director of Conservation at Bristol Zoological Society. “It will also help farmers to make decisions that will benefit both sustainable agriculture and conservation.”

“For conservation efforts to move forward, you have to tackle economic issues that smallholder farmers face, but not at the expense of the environment,” added Tim McCollum, Founder & CEO of Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla. “Ultimately, both conservation progress and economic progress have to coexist and we’re excited to be at the intersection where these efforts collide.”

“We will use this work not only to alleviate tensions between cocoa farmers and lemurs but also to develop a rapid surveying method that could be applied to other areas of Madagascar,” shared Dr. David Fernandez, Lecturer in Conservation Science at UWE Bristol.

The research team aims to conclude the study in April 2017, with results announced in June 2017.

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses an innovative blend of science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water, and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn moreabout Conservation International and follow our work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About Bristol Zoological Society

The project team consists of researchers from Bristol Zoological Society (James Solofondranohatra (Sedera), Simon Razafindramoana and Dr Amanda Webber — Project Lead) and UWE Bristol (Dr David Fernandez and Dr Joel Allainguillaume).

Bristol Zoological Society is involved with more than 100 coordinated breeding programs for threatened wildlife species. It employs over 150 full and part-time staff to care for the animals and run a successful visitor attraction to support its conservation and education work. The Society supports — through finance and skill sharing — 15 projects in the UK and abroad that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered species. Bristol Zoological Society is working with Conservation International to conduct an additional landscape and biodiversity assessment of vanilla plantations in Madagascar.

About Madécasse

The Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla journey started as Peace Corps volunteers, teaching English in Madagascar. They fell in love with the country and the people and wanted to do more, so they started making chocolate in Madagascar. They did this because they believe that two things are off in the chocolate industry. (1) The overwhelming majority of chocolate on the shelf tastes the same. Madécasse thinks everyone deserves a better bar of chocolate and they’re on a mission to make that happen. They use a different type of cocoa, and you can actually taste the difference. And (2) they are on a mission to make chocolate where the cocoa grows. That means integrating themselves into some of the poorest communities in the world, and entrenching themselves into some of the most challenging countries to work. It results in transparency throughout the entire value chain, and it changes the game for cocoa farmers. Learn more about Madécasse and their journey on their website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.