Protecting the Lemurs of Madagascar

As we end the month of October, everyone is getting ready for the holidays, but there’s another important date that is often overlooked—World Lemur Day! This World Lemur Day, we are highlighting a wonderful organization dedicated to protecting the endangered lemurs of Madagascar.

What Is Lemur Love?

Lemur Love is a non-profit, volunteer-driven conservation organization dedicated to saving lemurs through research and empowering the nearby community. Focused on the southwestern region of the country, Lemur Love has worked closely with the community of Tsimanampetsotse and the National Park, working tirelessly to preserve the forest and fight the biodiversity crisis. I got the chance to speak with the founder and director of Lemur Love, Dr. Marni Lafleur, who was able to give me some insight about the important work they are doing in this little corner of the world.

Marni began Lemur Love 11 years ago. While conducting year-long research for her PhD dissertation in the forest of Tsimanampetsotse, she witnessed the devastating effects of deforestation on the lemur populations. “I just got scared about the future for these lemurs,” she says, “and decided that I wanted to continue to work with them and make sure that they had a home.” Pursuing a degree in evolution, and coming from a theoretical background, Marni had never planned on working in conservation or non-profits. This changed when she realized she wouldn’t have any animals left to study if this continued!

What is Lemur Love’s Mission?

In order to accomplish their mission of protecting lemurs, empowering women, and furthering science, Lemur Love focuses on helping the local community. Many of the challenges facing lemurs—deforestation, bushmeat hunting, and poaching for the pet trade—are all symptoms of one terrible illness: poverty. Tsimanampetsotse—named for the saline lake that borders the forest, an “ocean without dolphins”—is the most impoverished region of a top 10 poorest country. “Extreme poverty is not compatible with conservation. Conservation and development must be hand in hand in order for it to be sustainable,” Marni says.

Loving Lemurs, Loving People

As part of their mission, Lemur Love has employed a full staff of local people to work as forest rangers. Although Tsimanampetsotse is a national park, no one was on site to monitor and protect the forest. Marni and her team work as volunteers in the US so that funding can go toward staffing a team of forest rangers. Not only does staffing protect the forest and further research, but it also boosts the local economy and provides employment opportunities for the community. While Marni’s original plan for her life did not involve humanitarian work, that quickly changed when she started to bond with the Malagasy people during her research trips. “Once you have a presence somewhere, and you get to know people, you naturally want to help, because these problems seem so solvable. With just a little amount and money, and a little amount of effort, you can really solve quite a bit.”

How Do They Do It?

However, using the community as a gateway to protecting the lemurs was not an easy feat. Earning the Malagasy peoples’ trust was truly a task, because, usually, researchers and scientists are only interested in the things they are studying, never mingling with the local community. And when scientists did reach out, it was only to make promises of hope that would never be fulfilled, and the people would leave the community, never to return, their promises of development and assistance forgotten.

Marni started to build relationships with the community by returning annually to Tsimanampetsotse to continue her work and slowly build relationships. After her 5th year, she built a small house in the area in order to store her research equipment, and this small act of convenience solidified the people’s trust in her. They knew she would return and make good on her word, and she would fulfill her promises to help them. Now, the people know her personally just as she knows them, and the positive impact is only growing. Every year, at the end of the field research season, Marni, her staff, and the community all throw a party to commemorate another successful year. She says its little things like this that really solidify the bond and build the relationships necessary to accomplish the goals of Lemur Love. “They were like, ‘you know, we’ve seen all of these researchers…people don’t even stop to say hello, let alone invite us to do something.’ It’s not a big deal, we just have a party in the village..but these small things about building relationships are critical to the success of the work. They don’t understand why foreigners come through and care more about the animals than the people. I think of the analogy of someone coming to where I live, and they were so into the squirrels, but didn’t say hello to me!” Marni says that showing interest in the people and acknowledging their humanity is truly the key to having success in the conservation of lemurs. Building a relationship with an entire community across the world with a vastly different culture than our own is no small goal, but it is one that Marni and her team at Lemur Love continue to accomplish every day.

The Best Part

Marni says her favorite part of the job is seeing early career Malagasy people coming in their own, empowered by Lemur Love to start their own research and conservation work. This gives us hope for the future, and she has seen first-hand that young people across the globe have what it takes to carry on the conservation mission with the use of new technology and methods. If you would like to support Lemur Love and their incredible work, all of their funding and donations go toward employing the Malagasy staff in the national park. Lemur Love also works with various sponsors of similar values, such as Population Connections and Rewild. There are opportunities available online for people to get involved, such as spreading the word through social media. Marni says she is always looking for someone to manage their social media, particularly TikTok, to cull and edit content for posting.

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this web site are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of SAFE Worldwide.

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