“Have you seen the movie?”
That was usually the first question people asked me about my trip, both before and after. I had not seen the movie so I couldn’t offer a comparison. However, I really didn’t think I would see many cartoonish lemurs dancing in the streets of the capital of Antananarivo, or Tana for short.
I did see a lot of rain which wasn’t surprising as it was the rainy season. From the third floor of my hotel I watched dark heavy clouds roll into the city, dumping buckets of rain and filling the streets with standing water. Tana, like many major cities globally, does not have the built or natural infrastructure needed to accommodate heavy downpours. Storms, like the one I witnessed, may become less frequent but more intense in the future.
According to a climate change risk profile for Madagascar produced by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the country may experience more frequent or intense extreme weather events like drought or cyclones, warmer temperatures, and erratic rainfall. Extreme weather may bring about challenges in accessing water for drinking and food production as well as increased risk of diseases such as malaria and diarrheal illness. Drought could limit agricultural production and lead to higher food prices. Flooding and landslides could easily isolate entire communities. Due to the limited number of roads throughout the country, impacts on those living in rural areas could intensify as reaching people with supplies and support could be challenging.
While the world works on reducing carbon emissions with the hopes of slowing climate change, countries do their best to adapt to the changes. Nature-based solutions can help alleviate some of the impacts of drought and flooding. In Madagascar, restoring mangroves can help shorelines absorb the energy of waves thrashing coastal areas during storms, reducing flooding and erosion damage. Reforested areas could help slow the flow of water during times of heavy rain and provide help in holding moisture in the soil during drought. Protecting and rehabilitating these ecosystems would help conserve the unique plant and animal species found only in Madagascar.
Although the majority of my three week trip was spent working, I was able to leave Tana and spend some time exploring these natural wonders of the island. Just outside of the city, a private reserve rehabilitates lemurs previously kept in captivity until they are ready to be released back into the wild. I had the opportunity to see a few of the over 100 types of lemurs found only in Madagascar. Although the lemurs were within close proximity to people, they went about their business of eating, climbing, swinging, and yes, “dancing.” There was no prompting of the animals to jump on our shoulders and we were warned to maintain a distance from them. Knowing the animals would be heading back into protected areas, I was happy they were not being treated as pets.
I spent a few days in and around Andasibe Mantadia National Park, a few hours to the east of Tana. During my time there, I explored the area during the day and night with a guide. Guides are required to explore protected areas, but it really was to my advantage. I would not have spotted a green chameleon or a mouse lemur high in the tree in the darkened forest without these local experts. Locating Indri lemurs would have been challenging just staying on the park’s trail. My guide coordinated with his colleagues to find several groups of different types of lemurs off the trail system.
While visitors are drawn to the country for these types of experiences in nature, I also valued my time with the people I met. They found ways to communicate with me since I didn’t speak Malagasy. They respectively challenged my ideas and provided me with insight into their worldviews. As with every trip abroad I take, I walked away from this opportunity seeing life in a new light along with the reminder to slow down a little bit. Or as they say in Malagasy mora mora.
Written by Kristi Tabaj