Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rare Victory for Madagascar Tortoises

Conservationists are celebrating a double victory over tortoise smugglers in Madagascar.

Earlier this month, a Nigerian man was arrested with 300 tortoises and another 20 have been returned to their habitat after being seized on a neighbouring island.

But campaigners' relief might not last long. The live animal trade, particularly in reptiles, is big business. Madagascar's unique wildlife, which makes it so exciting for conservationists, also attracts financial interest; collectors could have netted as much as $200,000 (£100,000) for them in exotic pet markets. The recent haul of 300 seized from a house after the tip-off may be the largest in the world.

Global trade

Eight of the tortoises saved were of the rarest species in the world: the ploughshare tortoise. Found in a small area of north-western Madagascar, conservationists believe only about 1,000 of these ploughshare tortoises remain and the loss of even a small number would be devastating. According to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the ploughshare will be extinct within 10 years if they continue to disappear at the same rate.

It is a global trade. The Nigerian man, who faces up to 10 years if he is convicted, was found with three passports with three different names from three different countries. The reptiles could have been bound for rare animal markets in Bangkok, Thailand.

Although tortoises are protected in Madagascar, some species are still eaten in parts of the country. However, to buy a tortoise to eat might cost $10 (£5), but to buy one as a pet might cost you $10,000 (£5,000), so the real risk lies from international collectors.

Felicitee Rejo Fienena, who works for the government in southern Madagascar, wants more to be done to protect wildlife. "If buyers continue to exist on the international market, then collectors will continue to exist in Madagascar," she says. People trying to protect the tortoises here are wary of advertising the sheer value of the trade for fear of attracting even more fortune-hunters to the island. On the other hand, if they do not draw attention to the threat the trade causes, for certain species their desirability may lead to their extinction.

For the full story check out the BBC website.

It was a very sad week in Andavadoaka as we lost (they left, we didn't mislay them) two of our staff members on the same day. Craig, our medic, and Tristan, a field scientist. They had both been around for nine months and were both really hard workers and big personalities. More than a few tears were shed when they left on Wednesday and the air felt very flat afterwards. Though that could also have been to do with the thunderstorm which had passed through the village about an hour before.

To keep myself and a few of the volunteers occupied, I decided to hold a brainstorm (as oppose
d to a thunderstorm) with some of the female volunteers to see if we could come up with some ideas for the women's association. Currently, the Andavadoaka women's association have a few wares to sell, and come up to our classroom on a Sunday to show them to us. However, they did not have a very large repertoire the first Sunday that they came and their products weren't to everyone's taste. So, we sat down together and had a great time thinking about all the things that they could make to sell, that wouldn't end up with them having a lot of stock that no one wanted to buy. Suggestions varied from embroidered bookmarks, through to pencil cases, and wrap around skirts (which don't therefore require difficult sizing)... That afternoon, Lalao (the Malagasy staff member working with the women's association) and I presented the ideas to the women.

We held the meeting sat out on the beach, and Lalao introduced me, read out the ideas and translated my explanations. They seemed to think that giving dance lessons was absolutely hysterical! Blue Ventures promised to help them out in buying new materials if necessary and they agreed to pay us back with the profits. I didn't think much more of it until Sunday came around again and the women came up to hold their stall. In fact, I had completely forgotten that they were coming but that dinnertime, I noticed that four of the volunteers were wearing new clothes. The women had not only taken on board our suggestions, but had put them into action there and then! They'd made the small bags we'd suggested, some wrap-around skirts, a simple dress and pencil cases. I think that they actually sold everything that they brought. They also brought some food and sold out of that too!

In a country where everything seems to take an inordinate amount of time from idea to fruition, it just seemed immensely satisfying to see a few ideas germinate and be realised in less than a week.

Ruth (Expedition Manager)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A trip down South

As hard working Expedition Manager I rarely get to leave site, but was fortunate enough recently to join a trip to go down south to Lamboara to collect the fish monitoring data. Bic led the trip and took along Lalao, so that she could meet the women's association, Ellie, an American volunteer keen on helping the women's association with their business and me, who mainly came just for the ride. And what a ride! Our pirogue - (the dugout sailing canoes particular to this region) left at about 8am. Luckily, the wind was blowing south, and so we could too. It was all pretty smooth for a while and we enjoyed the peace of being out on the sea and the wind and sun on our skin. At one point, I remarked to Lalao that it was getting pretty hot and I was so tempted to go in for a swim. Soon after this, while Bic was catnapping at the front of the boat, a huge wave swamped the boat, filling the hull with water. One moment we were sitting on benches, chilled as anything. Next, the boat was rocking on a wave and we were up to our knees in water! Bic was up quickly, frantically bailing with one of the oars while we recovered the things floating around the boat - such as my camera (in its underwater housing luckily) and the pirogue sailer's shoes. Pirogues are such cool boats that even when completely full of water - which this one was at that point - they do not sink. Which is lucky really, as once Bic and the sailer had bailed us out, we were on our way once again.

We got to Lamboara at about 10 and were greeted on the beach by some singing children, who seemed particularly fascinated by Ellie, and accompanied us to the village President's house. The village president greeted us, showed us the A3 hand-drawn maps of the mangroves that the village has been working on and invited us inside his house before it started raining. We were given some coffee and bok bok (fried doughy doughnut things) and waited for the women with the fin-fish data to arrive. When we're in Andavadoaka, and comparing it with our towns, cities or villages from home, it's easy to forget that it's actually a relatively prosperous village compared to some of the other settlements along the coast. While Andavadoaka has a population of around 2,000, Lamboara has a population of just 600. While Andavadoaka has a number of tiny epi-bars, stalls and a supermarket selling everything the volunteer far from home could desire, Lamboara has none of this and instead children walk along singing the price of the bok bok that they are selling.

The women who collect data for our fin fish monitoring turned up and Bic showed me the books where they record the data. Every fortnight, the women go down to the beach to measure and weigh the fish brought in by the fisherman. They use fish identification books (the same kind as the volunteers here use) to identify the fish, and scales and tape measures bought by Blue Ventures. They also record additional data - such as the method of fishing (spear gun, fishing line etc.) name of the fisherman, and his age. I looked through the data of one book and found that the oldest fisherman on that day was 58, the youngest, 10. Bic then collects all the data, enters it back here on a computer and sends it back to London where it is analysed.

Following this, we met with the women's association and Lalao introduced herself to them, as she will be working with them to help keep developing the small-scale crafts that they are making to sell. We met with them for a while, enjoyed lunch cooked by the president's wife, and then after a brief walk around the village, it was time to head back. Thankfully our return trip was pretty uneventful. It was also quicker, due to a change in the wind direction and wind speed and it took us less than 90 minutes before we arrived back on half moon beach. I'd sat on the balancoire for the last twenty minutes and arrived breathless and excited from the journey. It was definitely good to see somewhere different, but it was good to be home again too.

Ruth Rosselson (Expedition Manager)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meet the Nahudas

Every expedition we take our new crop of volunteers into one of the village 'epi-bars' to meet the nahudas - the village elders. We introduce ourselves to them and then shake our tushes on the dancefloor to some Malagasy music afterwards. It's usually a really positive exchange. They get a free drink and the amusement of watching us on the dancefloor, the village children get to gawp at us all through the windows and our volunteers get to hear first hand from the villagers, the positive effect that BV has had and is having on the village and local community.

Until now, we haven't met the women of the village in the same official way. It's a shame, I think, as it's the women of the community that we tend to interact with a lot more throughout the course of each expedition. It's from the women that we buy mangos (season over now though), peanuts and samosas. We also use their services - through a middle-woman called Vivien - to do our washing, and the women are out and about saying hi to us when we walk through the village.

This expedition however has started to see a change in the old 'tradition' of just meeting the men. One of the women - the head of the women's association - came along to the meeting in the epi-bar earlier in the week. And then, through Daniel (one of our Malagasy staff), the women's association sent a message to us inviting us to a special lunch so that we could meet them and say hello. We trooped down to the primary school at 1pm on Sunday - our day off. First of all, the women performed a few dances and songs. They sang beautifully and in harmony, and also, apparently were quite funny as a couple of the songs had our Malagasy staff laughing and clapping along.

Daniel also became a temporary woman and joined them for a couple of songs - he just couldn't resist singing along. Afterwards, we sat on small wooden benches in the schoolroom and ate goat, rice and a bean dish (I didn't eat goat, I got an omelette). Then, they thanked us for coming, presented Al (one of my bosses from London who is here for a few days) with a birthday present and I thanked them for the food and the dancing. They said that they hoped that each expedition they could put on such a meal, and I agreed that it was a great idea and I hoped so too.

So, that's been the main event this week. The other exciting event was Al's arrival, bringing gifts from home including an array of newspapers. The most exciting of which was the Sun which has very little news at all, and therefore does not ignite an episode of depression about the state of the world.

It is very hot now, and there is still (just about) grass on the football pitch. Andavadoaka played Lamboara on Sunday afternoon and lost. I could barely sit outside and not move in that heat and humidity, let alone run around a dusty pitch after a football. Oh! And Nick (American volunteer, keen on lizards and reptiles) brought in a ground boa to the restaurant last night just before dinner. The wet brings all the reptiles out apparently.

Ruth (Exp Manager)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lemurs feel the cold!

Lemurs Warm-up with Space Heaters
January 9, 2008, 5:19 PM PST

Lemurs Warm-up with Space Heaters Chilly ring-tailed lemurs at the Japan Monkey Centre in Aichi Prefecture have been jostling for positions in front of an electric heater to keep warm.

Employees say the heater was first brought into the cage for them, not the animals, because it was so cold to work there.

But the primates now line up in front of the device, often with their arms wide-stretched, enjoying the warmth.

Some even fight for the best position.

What's strange is that lemurs are normally afraid of electrical appliances, according to employees.

Indigenous to Madagascar, lemurs are the most primitive primates and are among the world's most endangered species.

They have difficulty regulating their body temperature and usually heat their bodies by lying in direct sunlight.

Check out the video

For the full Story visit the KTLA website
Copyright © 2008, KTLA

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Wanderer's Return

Thursday 27th December

Tana Airport

13:06 (UK), 16:06 (Madagascar)

In approximately 54 minutes I will be heading down the runway and leaving this Fair Isle. A month has passed very quickly and I feel I have done a lot, seen a lot, learnt a lot, and changed a bit. You know, I think I have managed to slow down. Just a little bit, but I am fine with dead time now. There has to be some time in which nothing particular happens and in which you have time to be with your thoughts and yourself. I have never previously been content with this time. In Madagascar things move at such an unimaginably slow time that you have to quickly adapt to having this extra time in which you are waiting for something that allows the next something to happen. It is crazy and you can not fight it. Fight it and you may end up going insane or become a violent / aggressive person – I very nearly did – highly unlike me.

Right it looks like we are embarking – that is good – prompt departure. I am looking forward to being home again and to celebrating a bit of a late Christmas with friends and family. It has been a great Gasy-mas but now is time to take some quality down time.

Mauritius Airport

16:52 (UK), 19:52 (Madagascar), 18:52 (Mauritius) – by having to work out that I realise now I have an extra hour to kill here – my flight doesn’t leave until 22.20 – rubbish – ahh well I can now practice my new found waiting skill.

Thank god I have a computer with music on that I can plug into and drown out the pan pipe version of Take That’s “Back for Good”. If only I could make a quick dash for the white sand. The pictures in the airport make it look very appealing indeed!

Being in transit is an odd place to be. There are so many different people here, from different origins and all brought together to wait. Very odd. It is very odd indeed. The proportion of white people has slightly increase here too – from about 1% to 7%, I figure that it helps that there is a flight to London. I think I am a bit scared of white people now. My instinct is to shy away from them and sit myself in the corner of the departure lounge writing to you.

So am I sad to be leaving? I think the honest answer is no. I have had a great month but now I feel very drained by it all and very very tired, I have had one of the best Christmas’ ever – spent in the forests east of Morondava looking at lemurs, chameleons, snakes, other lizards, butterflies and avoiding biting flying beetles, along with a number of other experiences and people that I won’t forget. I have had a lot of time to reflect on Blue Ventures Carbon Offset and on me.

I have made a list of New Year’s resolutions that I want to but into play, but I know that some of them will take determination and hard work to get through. I am excited by it, but apprehensive at the same time. One of them is to reduce my carbon even more dramatically than before and look at building my own eco house. I think from a business point of view- running a carbon offsetting organisation I would be far less hypocritical to be a carbon free as possible. It would also be an opportunity to road test a lot of the recommendations that we as BVCO give people to reduce their own footprint.

Watch this space for Ellie’s Eco Build Blog!!