“We visited two schools in the Managbe and Moramanga area-a few hours east from Madagascar’s capital city and the home of the endemic and increasingly rare golden mantella frog-to meet the communities living alongside them.
“Having very few public zoo’s in Madagascar most of the children and possibly some of the adults too-had never been to a zoo or even heard of one; so a key aim of our visits to the schools was to let them know about Chester Zoo-what we do and how we Act for Wildlife worldwide-as well as telling them why we were so interested in the amazing endemic wildlife on their doorstep.
“We were received with a wonderfully warm welcome; there was lots of excitement-but even bursting with excitement the children were so well behaved-polite and full of brilliant questions! Having come all the way from England to Madagascar to see some little bright orange frogs may seem a bit strange to the children that see those frogs in the forest near their homes regularly and so we did an activity to highlight the rarity of the golden mantella and why it’s important to look after their environment.
“We hid toy frogs around their playground and the children had to pretend to be the researchers-find the frogs-then with the Chester Zoo team-weigh-measure and count the frogs-as researchers would out in the field. The children then had to choose a suitable habitat to return the frogs to from a choice of healthy forest and degraded forest habitat images.
“The activity went really well with the help from Madagasikara Voakajy translators most of the children understood the importance of a healthy forest for supporting wildlife and people too. The local community celebrated our visit with a cultural exchange festival-where we were presented with wonderful poems-songs and dances; it was lovely to be so welcomed!
“The local women’s institute groups sang for us and were dressed in clothing embroidered with golden mantella frogs. We even got to buy some of their amazing animal embroidered pieces.
“As well as engaging with school and community groups I got be a part of the primate-bird and frog surveys. I love birds and so topped up on my Malagasy bird identification skills before the trip-so I could help identify birds on the surveys. I was super excited about going on the expedition and really enjoyed getting all my travel essentials together from mosquito net to plasters and emergency sweets. My most important pieces of kit were my binoculars and camera-for capturing incredible wildlife encounters and recording our findings.
“The forest was beautiful and full of life-from lemurs and birds to amazing-bizarre insects like the giraffe-necked weevil. I really enjoyed the night walks-watching mouse lemurs feeding in the trees-awesome snakes and chameleons asleep on the ends of branches. My favourite wildlife encounter was the sighting of our first wild Indri! Their song is a weird but incredibly beautiful mixture between a whale and gibbon call and it fills the forest with music for miles around.
“One of the most exciting-strange and cringe worthy parts of the trip was getting jiggers – which are burrowing sand fleas – in my feet. The whole team had them-totalling over 80 altogether. What an experience?! That’s what I call team bonding!
“The work that Chester Zoo does-together with Madagasikara Voakajy-is really important because it’s helping to protect precious forests in a unique islands ecosystem-teaming with hundreds of endemic and threated animals and plants.
“The skills and support Chester Zoo has worked with Madagasikara Voakajy to develop are invaluable to protecting the wildlife-and the livelihood of the local people. The conservation work-community engagement and training that the zoo delivers with the support of its conservation partners-helps to provide the local people with education-jobs and the groundwork for a more sustainable future living alongside wildlife.
“The education element of the programme aims to inspire and connect the local people with wildlife because without their support and cooperation the conservation efforts to protect the golden mantella and other wildlife wouldn’t be possible. Madagasikara Voakajy do an amazing job of engaging and inspiring the local community to be advocates for the protection of their environment and it was incredible to be a small part of that whilst visiting the project.
“The expedition was an absolutely incredible experience-I saw weird and wonderful wildlife-made fantastic friends and got to be a part of the amazing conservation work to protect the golden mantella and its habitat.”