African Studies Center, Michigan State University
Michigan State University

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Paradise in Peril? Exploring Madagascar's Biodiversity Crisis

Study Abroad Website

Summer Study Madagascar is home to astonishing eight plant, four bird, and five primate families that live nowhere else on Earth. Until recently, Malagasy people (comprised of 17 different ethnic groups) had limited land tenure rights and little support for alternative livelihoods. Madagascar is faced with balancing the delicate relationship between human development and environmental protection. This has had devastating consequences for both the country's natural environment and people's standard of living. This study abroad program examines the nexus of biodiversity conservation and livelihood preservation on the world's 4th largest island, Madagascar. We will visit multiple terrestrial and marine protected areas in diverse habitat types (e.g., tropical humid forest, deciduous dry forest, coastal and marine habitats, mangroves, and coral reefs) to better understand the evolution and sustainability of natural resource governance in Madagascar. We will see first-hand and discuss both the challenges associated with managing and enforcing protected areas (e.g., illegal logging, lemur or tortoise poaching) and the opportunities (e.g., carbon banking, ecotourism, community policing). Students will learn about how Malagasy people react to and think about environmental enforcement and environmental degradation. Guest speakers will discuss voluntary and mandatory compliance interventions designed to foster co-conservation of culture and natural resources, educational and technological innovation interventions, and captive breeding programs for Madagascar's endemic endangered species. Students will directly interact with conservation practitioners, enforcement officials, biologists, and local people to experientially learn about Malagasy culture and natural resources. The program begins in the hilly and densely populated French-speaking capital city of Antananarivo and proceeds over land by private coach to the rural and agricultural central highlands and forested eastern coast. We'll travel by commercial air to the lowland coastal tropical forest and by private boat to a marine protected area. Students will familiarize themselves with Malagasy flora and fauna, interact with government, non-governmental, enforcement, scientific, and community managers, and will participate in hands-on learning including guided day and night hikes, snorkeling, and community-based natural resource management and enforcement.