Forest Conservationist from Madagascar to Receive 2010 Seacology Prize
Each year, the Seacology Prize is awarded to an indigenous islander for exceptional achievement in preserving the environment and culture of any of the world’s 100,000 islands. The Prize highlights the heroic efforts by people who seldom receive any publicity – indigenous leaders who risk their own lives and well-being to protect their island's ecosystems and culture. Since the inception of the Prize in 1992, Seacology has given the award to 19 native islanders in recognition of their innovative and courageous work. The 2010 Seacology Prize winner is Rabary Desiré, a forest conservation leader from Matsobe-Sud, Commune Rurale Belaoka-Marovato, Madagascar. For his tireless efforts to further forest conservation in northeastern Madagascar, Mr. Desiré will be awarded $10,000 and honored at a ceremony at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California on October 7, 2010.
Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, has been recognized as one of the world’s top eight mega-biodiversity countries and one of the top five threatened biodiversity hotspots. Approximately 80 percent of Madagascar’s plants and animals are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of Madagascar's original forest cover has been lost since the time of human arrival, only 2,300 years ago. Rabary Desiré is recognized by many as a major conservation leader in northeastern Madagascar, and is a highly-sought-after research/eco-tourism guide. Mr. Desiré has almost no possessions (other than books and a little clothing) and shares his small traditional two-room residence with five other family members. With the money he makes from guiding, he buys forested land in order to protect it. Years of work have finally culminated in the establishment of his own small private nature reserve, Antanetiambo (“on the high hill”), likely the only reserve in northern Madagascar that has been entirely created from start to finish by a single local resident.
The Antanetiambo Reserve sticks out dramatically as a small island of forest in a sea of rice fields. In the distance tower the magnificent mountains of Marojejy National Park. Marojejy is a World Heritage Site where Mr. Desiré has played a key role in eco-tourism development and lemur research, as well as periodically serving as an investigator and spokesperson against illegal rosewood logging. He is using these same skills to develop and promote his own nature reserve. A website, brochure and signs have been created, and Mr. Desiré leads visitors on a tour to cultural sites as well as the reserve itself, where several species of lemurs, reptiles, and amphibians can be found. However, Mr. Desiré only owns about 60% of this forest. Because this little forest is surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of people, there is continual pressure and disturbance. Mr. Desiré’s wish is to purchase the remainder of this reserve and initiate a reforestation and monitoring program. He is an enthusiastic and talented educator who co-teaches environmental education classes at schools in communities bordering Marojejy National Park. He is also a serious researcher and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the behavior and ecology of the critically endangered silky sifaka lemur (Propithecus candidus). Since 2001, he has participated in numerous silky sifaka research projects and is a very effective data collector. Identifying the tree and vine species which the silky sifakas are eating is one of his specialties. He has personally tasted almost every one of the 100 types of plants consumed by silky sifakas.
Since a political coup erupted in February 2009, habitat disturbance has greatly increased in Madagascar. Mr. Desiré has clearly emerged as a conservation hero during this difficult time. An avid reader and talented artist, he is one of the few people in the region fluent in English, French, and Malagasy. He was born, raised and lives in a traditional village, and has never been overseas. Against all odds, Rabary Desiré has tirelessly worked to conserve the threatened biodiversity of his community’s forest. According to Mr. Desiré, “I am very happy to receive this award and I feel very lucky for myself and Madagascar. After many years of hard work and political instability, finally we are having some local conservation success. I plan to use these funds for such projects as reforestation, developing tourist infrastructure and purchasing the land around Antanetiambo Nature Reserve to increase the size of the reserve and the amount of protected land in this region. This award will help preserve the precious biodiversity and high endemism of Madagascar, as well as fight the ongoing battle against massive deforestation and possible extinction of many beloved species. I am very happy to thank all of the researchers, especially Erik Patel, for their long and hard work as well as organizations such as the United States Peace Corps, the World Wildlife Fund, and Madagascar National Parks which have provided so much help over the past ten years. Thanks Seacology for giving me this prize. The whole region will never forget it.”
Seacology is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization with the sole and unique purpose of preserving the environments and cultures of islands throughout the globe. More information about Seacology and the Seacology Prize can be found at www.seacology.org.
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Those wishing to attend the October 7, 2010 Seacology Prize ceremony in Berkeley should contact Carynne McIver at Seacology’s main office – (510) 559-3505.