Education and Adventure (part 3)

Nov. 9, 2012 text and photos by Chad Lebo

Most of our children have never seen a lemur in the wild. Correction. Most of our children had never seen a lemur in the wild.

It is important the our children at Akany Avoko experience and preserve the heritage of Madagascar. With that goal in mind, we offer traditional dance classes, traditional cooking classes and some of the children learn to play traditional instruments like the valiha, But the heritage of Madagascar includes more than food and arts. It also includes the incredible endemic biodiversity of Madagascar (about 80% of plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth). Sadly these unique plants and animals are rapidly disappearing and most of what remains is not accessible to most Malagasy children.

Thanks to a generous donation from Les Enfants de l’Ile Rouge, a registered charity based in Reunion and longtime sponsor of Akany Avoko, our children were able to experience first hand the precious and spectacular biodiversity of Madagascar. All the children struck out on a week-long educational field trip to Antsirabe and the wilds and wonders of Ranomafana National Park.

Because of school schedules, one small group of students had to wait until October for their adventure.  This group was able to visit many of the same places the first 2 groups enjoyed (please see Education and Aventure, part 1 and Education and Adventure, part 2 for all the photos and details), but they also had some wonderful experiences of their own.

Biodiversity and conservation were highlighted during the group's 2-night stay at KAFS, a scientific research and conservation station operated by MBP, the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. Located in Kianjavato, the KAFS station provides a research base and housing for scientists, international and Malagasay students, trained guides, conservation specialists and others. Their guides and staff led the children on several fantastic walks and activities.

Just hours after arriving, the students packed their lights and marched up to the the top of the Sanga Sanga mountain for a chance to see one of the strangest and most elusive primates in the world, the  Aye-Aye. This lemur is the largest nocturnal primate in the world and so distinct that is is the one and only member of the Daubentoniidae family. And not only were the children able to see a wild specimen of this critically endangered species, they were also able to see her baby too.

The next morning guides led the students on a search for 2 more species of lemur. That search was short and very fruitful. In minutes, we found, and were able to follow for 2 hours, a family of greater bamboo lemurs and a family of black and white ruffed lemurs. Though wild, these lemurs are used to being followed and studied by the scientists from KAFS, so the students were able to get very close without disturbing these endangered species of lemurs.

Switching from fauna to flora, the children spent the rest of the morning touring the tree nursery at KAFS and learning about reforestation and the importance of forests to plants, animals and people. They even were able to plant about 2 dozen trees on the nearby hillside to help with a large and on-going reforestation effort by MBP.

Still not finished, the students headed out again in the afternoon for an exhausting but rewarding hike in a nearby fragment of beautiful primary forest called Vatovavy. Though we were hiking there to enjoy the intact forest and the vertiginous limestone cliffs, we were once again afforded many glimpses of black and white lemurs and treated to their piercing calls (they are the second-loudest primates in world). And a special treat was coming across one of the greatest masters of camouflage in the world, a leaf-tailed gecko. Ironically, having lost it while fleeing some predator, the leaf-tailed gecko had no tail.

After a great night of singing and playing guitar by candle and solar lights, the students shuffled off to bed and the end of an education- and adventure-filled 2 days.


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