26 Feb 2016

Our next Madagascar expedition update comes from Chester Zoo project liaison-Chloe Helm. From focusing on the design and construction of animal enclosures here at the zoo-to trekking through forests and monitoring golden mantella populations – this was a great opportunity for Chloe to see-and take part in-Chester Zoo’s conservation work first hand.

“My role revolves around being the link between the animal and plant teams and all the projects taking place in the zoo. These projects can be as large scale as Islands to  a small enhancement to an existing exhibit. I was extremely excited about getting the opportunity to go to Madagascar – something completely different to my day to day role!

“Many of the endemic animals in Madagascar formed case studies in my zoology degree due to their unique adaptations and it has been an ambition of mine to visit the country ever since.

Beautiful surroundings in Madagascar

“My main task on the expedition was to assist with monitoring the critically endangered golden mantella frog population. This work involved capturing the frogs-taking biometric data-elastomer marking the frogs-then re-releasing them. By using the capture-mark-recapture technique we can make good estimations about the population size.

“I also took part in some of the school presentations where we explained to the children how unique and important their local wildlife is. Part of the session involved an activity where the children had to find (toy) frogs and carefully weigh and measure them-to replicate what we were doing in the field.

Visiting local schools

“Before heading off to Madagascar I took part in some frog handling training. My job focuses on the design and construction of enclosures-so it’s very novel for me to get this close contact with the animals. I was also involved in a drone training session the week leading up to the expedition; unfortunately-we didn’t end up using it in the field!

“On arrival in Madagascar-we were all very keen to get out of the city and in to the field. My group had been giving a presentation at a school in Mangabe in the morning and arrived at the field camp around lunch time – after all the tents had been set up. I was really impressed with the camp that Madagascar Voakajy (MaVoa) had set up for us. They had built tin shelters for us to camp under-a dining table with log benches and even cubicles for us to take our river showers inside! I was really keen to get started on our first frog pond survey day so I could start contributing and adding value to the project.

Expedition team camp

“Every evening the group would sit down (to another meal of rice!) and we would share stories about what we had been doing during the day. There was a wide variety of expertise in our group-so I learnt huge amounts from conversations around the camp during dinner.

“One of my personal highlights of the trip was a night walk we did on the fourth evening in Mangabe.  A small group of us went into the forest after dinner with our torches and we were lucky enough to see dwarf lemurs-woolly lemurs-mouse lemurs-geckos-chameleons and a bright red snake – there’s really cool wildlife around every corner in Madagascar.

“On my last full day in camp-I went with the primate group to walk transect lines and collect the camera traps. From the moment we left camp we could hear the Indri calling in the distance and it wasn’t long until a group of three jumped straight across the path we were walking along. We left the path soon after and spent an hour or two walking through the dense forest-climbing over branches and dodging under gigantic orb spider webs.

Indri in a tree in Madagascar

“It was all well worth the effort when Nannye (from MaVoa) stopped us in our tracks and pointed out a family of Diademed Sifaka lemurs sat in the trees ahead of us. The male was keeping an eye on us while the female and youngster stayed further back. To see these beautiful critically endangered lemurs in their natural habitat-leaping from tree to tree was a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget.

“Chester Zoo’s work with MaVoa in Madagascar is key to making good estimations about the population size of golden mantella frogs in the wild. Collecting accurate data from field work is vital in making long term plans about how to manage and protect this species from extinction in the future. By sending an expedition group to Madagascar-the team were able to collect a huge amount of data that would have taken MaVoa a lot longer to collect without our help.

Giant millipede

“Amphibians are very susceptible to environmental contaminants which make them good indicators of environmental health. They are also significant predators of small invertebrates and prey for large predators making them a vital link in the food chain. By working hard to conserve the habitat of these tiny orange frogs-we are also conserving the habitat of hundreds of other species at the same time – bonus!

“It was a great feeling to dust off the Lonely Planet guide I’ve had sat on the shelf since 2007 and visit the country I have read so much about. Madagascar is truly a dream destination for any wildlife lover and it did not disappoint! I am really proud of being part of the expedition team and hope we have done our little bit to help learn more about Mangabe forest and how to protect it.”