New Study Finds That Endangered Lemurs in Madagascar Are Surviving in Cocoa and Vanilla Farms

October 27, 2017

Using camera traps and night surveys to identify lemur calls, scientists from the Bristol Zoological Society and the University of West England found five lemur species — three of which are endangered — moving, resting and grooming among the branches of cacao trees on 61 farms that supply Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla, a direct-trade chocolate and vanilla company. Researchers also found five species on vanilla farms that supply GIE Sahanala, a Fair Trade and organic exporter of vanilla and cashew nuts.

“There is a lot of evidence of the value of shade-grown coffee for bird conservation, but this is the first study we have that shows the role that cocoa and vanilla farms can play as habitat for lemur species,” explained Curan Bonham, Director of Project Monitoring and Evaluation and the Verde Ventures Program at Conservation International. “This research underscores the importance of and need for greater investment to promote sustainable production systems as part of a holistic landscape conservation strategy.”

Dr. Sam Cotton, one of two scientists from the Bristol Zoological Society in the study, shared that they found the highest number of species in those vanilla farms grown close to areas of natural forest and amongst natural vegetation.

“These are the first documented observations of lemurs living in vanilla farms, and are extraordinary, unexpected and highly encouraging,” Cotton said. “Appropriately managed and located vanilla farms may therefore act as viable habitats for many species, including lemurs.”

Dr. Amanda Webber, the second scientist in the study from Bristol Zoological Society added, “The findings are exciting as they suggest that these highly threatened animals can live in human-dominated areas and cacao could be an example of a crop that, when grown sustainably, has the potential to benefit wildlife and people.”

Cacao, the plant from which chocolate is produced, is a vital commercial crop for people living in Madagascar.

“Poverty is the root cause of habitat destruction in Madagascar,” explained Tim McCollum, Founder and CEO of Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla. “Any serious conservation needs to solve poverty at the village level. This research is the first step in linking lemur preservation and renewable income generation for cacao and vanilla farmers. The most exciting thing is that it can be scaled.”

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses 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 more about Conservation International and its groundbreaking “Nature Is Speaking” campaign, and follow Conservation International’s work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About Bristol Zoological Society

Bristol Zoo 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. Bristol Zoo 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. In 2010 Bristol Zoo Gardens set up a Conservation Fund to raise vital funds to help care for threatened animals and plants — both in the Zoo and through the conservation work we do in the UK and around the world. Bristol Zoo Gardens is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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. (2) There is a lack of transparency in the industry, due to the thousands of miles and layers of middlemen that separate the farmers growing cocoa from the people eating chocolate. They’ve integrated themselves into some of the poorest communities and most challenging work environments in the world, to buy cocoa directly from farmers. Farmers earn more. Consumers get a better bar of chocolate. Learn more about Madécasse and their journey on their Website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.