From seed collection, germination, seedling care and transplantation – volunteers are needed to help plant a million trees in Madagascar.
Investigators at the Omaha’s
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (OHDZA) seek qualified and highly motivated
volunteer research assistants to contribute to an on-going reforestation
program in southeastern Madagascar in the second half of 2015 and again in 2016.
The restoration effort is led by OHDZA
and its partner, the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP; a Malagasy
nongovernmental organization), and is designed to reconnect natural habitats over
the mountainous terrain in the Kianjavato-Vatovavy landscape. Nine lemur species, several of which are
critically endangered, are present in the remaining yet unprotected forest fragments,
as is a rich variety of other endemics (birds, chameleons, tenrecs, etc.). The long-term goal of this project is to expand
animal habitat while sustainably benefiting the 12,000 area residents. Adequate physical fitness is required. We prefer volunteers with at least a BA or BSc in the biological or environmental sciences, or related field.
Depending on the job tasks for the day, you may be working at the primary field station or at the multiple tree nurseries; you could be collecting seeds within an established forest; or at a field site preparing for a community planting event. Duties may include sorting compost, placing seedlings into growing bags, organizing the tree inventory, transplanting trees with the local community groups or school children. The ultimate goal of the reforestation program is to plant one million trees as a means to establish corridors between forest fragments and restore ecosystem services. In order reach this substantial goal, there is a need for streamlining the reforestation effort – from seed collection, germination, and transplantation – and this is where the volunteers can make a significant and lasting contribution to the project.
The schedule for the reforestation volunteer may vary, but will operate during daylight hours, with members of the reforestation team and nursery staff arriving at the job site around 7:00am. The daily work location will fluctuate, but you will have a normal work Monday through Friday schedule, though some days may extend beyond an 8 hours. You will typically work with three other volunteers and a team of knowledgeable Malagasy field guides. The reforestation team consists of rotating OHDZA employees, Malagasy MBP field assistants and graduate students, along with numerous nursery managers and assistants from the local community. Current volunteers and the nursery staff will show incoming volunteers their procedure for growing seedlings and related activities in the nurseries, while the reforestation field personnel will demonstrate procedures for planting in the landscape. Some of the field personnel have basic English or French skills, but are more comfortable with Malagasy. However, as they work with an increasing number of volunteers, their language skills are rapidly improving which has allowed some to become fluent English speakers.
Goals & Impact
Ultimately, the goal for the MBP volunteer program is to improve communication between the field efforts and office MBP and OHDZA staff. Volunteers should be prepared to operate as a project manager and conservation partner – you’ll need to focus on a variety of tasks, such as: data collection standardization; ensure the team is on track to reach final goals; compile data into reports; address minor personnel issues and report concerning behavior; handle the weekly or monthly budget for the reforestation project and prepare budget reports; evaluate the functionality of the tasks at hand; compile and submit reports regarding field data, making interpretations as necessary; be proactive in responding to requests from Omaha regarding necessary information or pictures – these are often requested to complete grant reports and should be seen as a priority. The role of facilitating communication is paramount to the program success and volunteers must take this component very seriously. The long-term goal of this project is to expand animal habitat while sustainably benefiting the 12,000 are a residents.
The Kianjavato Region
The terrain of the Kianjavato region is very steep, thus adequate physical fitness in these conditions is required. The climate is typically very warm and humid, with a rainy season (late November through April), and a slightly cooler dry season (May through November). There are no dangerous fauna, except the rare spider or scorpion. However, precautions should be made to avoid tropical diseases (e.g., malaria, schistosomiasis) – volunteers should ensure that they have the proper vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis, which are the responsibility of the successful applicant.
Research is based at the projects field station which was established in 2009. Infrastructure upgrades are ongoing, however conditions are currently relatively rustic. Volunteers will sleep in self-provided tents under a fixed shelter which is shared with other volunteers, and meals are basic camp fare (be prepared to eat rice at each meal). Purified well water is readily available. Solar power and a generator is present to power laptops, recharge batteries, etc. on a restricted basis. There is generally good cellular phone reception at the station and in some parts of the forest. Volunteers will need to obtain their own phones and will have to pay for their own calls (even international rates are reasonable). Internet will largely only be available during monthly reporting trips to larger towns.
During the monthly reporting weekends, volunteers get the opportunity to travel to nearby cities with the reliable internet, for the required submission of data, photos, blogs and reports. Typically we have four volunteers travel together. OHDZA-MBP provides funds for the taxi-brousse fare, hotel accommodations, and for internet access. You are responsible for your food and any expenses. This is a nice chance for a sanity break, by communicating with people back home, getting a real shower and some different food.
On non-reporting weekends, things stay pretty quiet. Close to KAFS is a small shop that markets specifically to the tastes of foreigners – homemade pastries, sandwiches with freshly-prepared mayonnaise, pizza, or fresh fruit and avocado smoothies. In several villages there are several road-side stands that offer similar goods and services. Kianjavato’s weekly market day is a worthwhile 3km walk to find unique goods and produce. There are frequent soccer games you may attend or even participate in. There is a large national park within a few hours drive from KAFS and volunteers have often visited the site to go hiking and see more of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity.
Volunteers are usually met by MBP personnel at the Ivato airport in Antananarivo (Tana). Prior to your arrival, the MBP representative will be shown your picture and will have a sign with your name on it. This representative will be waiting for you outside the customs area. They can help you find the kiosk to exchange currency, and will escort you to the office complex (or nearby hotel), about an hour away from the Ivato airport.
Tent platforms are typically 4m2 wooden structures with a palm frond roof, providing shade but are not waterproof. Wood partitions walls extend half way up the wall provide a bit of privacy while allowing air flow. There is also a locked cabinet where you can store personal items. There will be two people per tent site, thus volunteers are restricted to bringing two-person sized tents so there is room for your tent, your gear, and have some elbow space for both you and your flat mate.
Our cook staff prepares three meals a day over fuel-efficient cook stoves or clay oven. Meals are rice-based, so be prepared for a repetitive diet. Beverages include coffee in the morning, filtered water any time, and ranopapango – the national drink – a rice tea.
If you have any food restrictions, please notify us before you start your field work so that we can plan accordingly.