Feb 1

Species name: aye-aye

Nominated by: Rainforest Trust UK

IUCN Red List classification: Endangered

What is so special about your species?

The aye-aye is one of a kind, a unique creature spectacularly evolved to thrive in the rainforests of Madagascar. It may not be the cutest lemur in the canopy – it looks like a cross between a giant vampire bat and Golum from Lord of the Rings – but what the aye-aye lacks in looks it makes up for in specialisation. The largest nocturnal primate in the world, the aye-aye finds its food by tapping on trees with its extraordinarily long middle finger and listening for insect larvae moving under the bark. It then gnaws a hole in the wood with its vampire-like incisors and uses the same middle finger to hook them out. Not the most romantic Valentine date, we admit, but it’s the only primate to use echolocation to find its dinner. They also mate upside down, hanging from a tree branch for up to an hour. Which isn’t easy, especially when you have a stomach full of insect larvae.

What are the threats to this species in the wild?

Aye-ayes have long been considered omens of bad luck by the Malagasy people due to their vampiric appearance, and some locals even think that if they point their long middle finger at you, you are marked for death. For this reason aye-ayes are often killed on sight and hung up at the edge of the village so that the evil spirit will be carried away by travellers. Add to this the widespread habitat loss and intensive farming that have destroyed much of their habitat across Madagascar, it’s clear that the aye-aye is only hanging on by its freakishly long fingertips and deserves your love this Valentine’s Day.

What can people do to help your species?

Rainforest Trust are working with our local Conservation Partners to conserve a number of crucial areas of rainforest for threatened endemic wildlife across Madagascar, including the newly discovered Lost Forest, a spectacular intact primary rainforest that has avoided degradation, unlike almost all other remaining Malagasy forests. And as a special Valentine’s Day gift, all donations to this project will be quadrupled, meaning you can save four times as much rainforest for our long-fingered friends!

VOTE NOW!

 

May 27

The Whitley Fund for Nature holds an annual ceremony where pioneering conservationists around the world are honoured with an award recognising their achievement and given £35,000 (US$50,350) to continue their projects. We were lucky enough to be invited along to the ceremony to meet the finalists and find out more about their work. Each day this week we will release an interview from each of the winners on the Arkive blog and our Youtube channel. ENJOY!

Juliette Velosoa – Saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle and its freshwater habitat

Juliette works in Madagascar for Durrell Wildlife Trust, saving the Critically Endangered side-necked turtle. The population of this ancient species has drastically decreased over recent years due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Since 1998 Juliette has been working to save the side-necked turtle, known in Madagascar as ‘rere’, by encouraging community-led resource management, nest protection and wetland restoration.

Find out more about Juliette’s work on the Whitley Awards website

Discover more about Durrell Wildlife Trust

Visit the Arkive profile of the side-necked turtle (also known as the Madagascar big-headed turtle)

May 29

In a letter to Nature magazine, researchers have expressed their concern over the appearance of a non-native toad species, the Asian common toad, in Madagascar.

The Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictusi) is a close relative of the cane toad (Rhinella marina), an invasive toad species that rapidly spread across Australia after its introduction in the 1930s, and has devastated many native fauna and flora populations. First seen on Madagascar in March, the Asian common toad has been sighted several times in areas close to Toasmasina, the main port of the island nation. Worryingly, there have also been sightings of the amphibian just 25 kilometres from the Betampona Nature Reserve and short distances from other biodiversity hotspots. The dispersal of this species is not just limited to Madagascar and it is thought that populations may have also become established in other areas. One of the authors of the letter, Jonathan Kolby, of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said, ”There is now a high dispersal risk of these toads spreading from Madagascar to other Indian Ocean islands such as the Mascarene Islands, Comoros, and Seychelles.”

It is thought that populations may have also become established on other Indian Ocean islands, such as the Mascarene Islands

It is thought that the Asian common toad could have various negative impacts on the fauna of Madagascar, including spreading diseases such as ranavirus and chytridiomycosis to native amphibians and competing with them for food and breeding areas. This toad species is poisonous and is known to be toxic to animals that ingest it. Snakes are thought to be one of the animal groups most at risk from the invasion and there are over 50 endemic snake species on Madagascar, including the Madagascar ground boa. Other endemic species including fossas, lemurs, and birds will also be put at risk should the population of this harmful amphibian become established. Kolby also said, “It’s worrying because Madagascar has amazing endemic biodiversity – plants, animals, and amphibians that are found nowhere else. And this one species has the propensity to damage that.”

95 percent of the reptiles on Madagascar are endemic to the island, including the Madagascan ground boa

As well as being a threat to the animals of Madagascar, the Asian common toad is also a threat to the human population as it is known to contaminate drinking water and transmit parasites. After the devastation the cane toad has caused in Australia, it is thought that immediate action is required on Madagascar to prevent history from repeating itself. Kolby said, “The question is, can we still eradicate them? Have we caught it soon enough that eradication could be a feasible option? Obviously we all hope the answer is yes.” Suggested methods of eradication include removing adult toads, draining breeding ponds, and installing fences to prevent the toads from reaching water where they would be able to breed. Highlighting the urgency of the situation, Kolby said, ”Time is short, so we are issuing an urgent call to the conservation community and governments to prevent an ecological disaster.”

In Australia, the introduced cane toad is responsible for the declines of many native species, including the Near Threatened brush-tailed phascogale

Read more on this story at Nature – Toxic toads threaten ‘ecological disaster’ for Madagascar.

View images and videos of Madagascan species on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 7

Readers of the ARKive blog may remember that last year we featured a guest blog introducing the fantastic Barren Isles Project, which is working towards creating Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. Recently Olivier Raynaud, the Barren Isles Project Coordinator, got in touch let us know how the project is progressing.

Barren Isles image

Head down under the rain the whole morning, bailing water out of the pirogue as it crashes back in at once, one can’t help but reflect on how this mission hasn’t quite gone to plan…

We’d originally set out for a two-week mission covering all of the nine islands and eight coastal villages which make up the Barren Isles, but now, just 6 days in, we’re headed home early, and let’s face it; this particular consultation trip to the Barren Isles has been less than successful. Uncooperative equipment was daunting enough, but a patch of unexpected inclement weather added insult to injury, forcing us to abort the mission and scramble back to the mainland.

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

In contrast to this undeniably disappointing mission, overall project development is relatively stable and encouraging, as we work our way towards Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. If there’s anywhere that warrants protection in Madagascar’s coastal waters, it’s the Barren Isles archipelago. When out on the islands, I never miss a chance to duck in for a snorkel, and am always rewarded with pristine coral reefs teeming with fish. Despite hosting hundreds of migrant fishers every year, fish populations remain relatively in tact here, as the fishers, mostly coming from Madagascar’s southwest coast, are here in search of high-value sharks and sea cucumbers.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why we’re engaging with local and migrant fishing communities, before these reefs and fish go the way of many of the reefs of southwest Madagascar. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for local shark and sea cucumber populations, which are already largely fished out.

The Malagasy government now has in its possession all the paperwork required to establish an official Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Barren Isles. Throughout the creation process, and beyond all the legal and scientific requirements, we, as project promoter, have gone to great lengths to ensure transparent and constant communication between all stakeholders by gathering together, on a regular basis, all actors relevant to the Barren Isles conservation initiative.

Indeed, strong community support and collaboration between stakeholders are the only chance for the MPA to be a success, as it will depend on local communities to both create and enforce the rules and regulations, in partnership with government representatives and industrial sectors.

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

For instance, when the initial outline for the MPA perimeter overlapped with industrial shrimp fishing grounds, back-to-back delimitation propositions were exchanged between traditional fishermen and the national industrial fishing lobby (Groupement des Aquaculteurs et Pêcheurs de Crevettes de Madagascar – GAPCM). The negotiations reached a win-win compromise, where a considerable portion of the ecosystem is to become off limits to trawlers, hence allowing the regeneration of stocks, and in turn increasing the productivity of adjacent fishing grounds.

This MPA protection status will regulate external and industrial threats to the local marine resources. It will also provide a legal framework for the broader LMMA approach, through which local issues (such as destructive fishing practices) will be addressed by elaborating and implementing a marine dina – a set of rules agreed on and enforced by the community.

It is precisely in order to finalize this dina with the fishing communities that we headed back off to the isles on our ill-fated trip.

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Though the mission got off to a good start, with weather forecasts predicting clear skies and smooth sailing, by the second day it was quite apparent that the weather was not going to cooperate much longer. An evening thunderstorm on Nosy Lava put a serious damper on the open-air outreach activities we had planned- a mix of showing environmental documentaries, giving updates on the MPA creation process and fielding questions from the community- sending everyone running for cover. A downpour the following day, as well as confirmation that our resupply pirogue bringing fresh water from the mainland would not be able to make the trip, made up our minds, and so on the third day we headed out early, while the sea was still calm and the skies relatively clear.

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra - when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra – when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

After the very first leg of the trip, and its occasional waves actually crashing in the boat, our generator had already drowned. A day spent drying – as far as sitting disassembled in the ambient dampness can be called drying – and it was back to life; hopes were high!  All the Nosy Dondosy fishermen gathered round, and… as we pulled the starter rope, it snapped. The final blow. Bummer.

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time... (© O. Raynaud)

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time… (© O. Raynaud)

Back home, after a quick stop for a – not so well-deserved but nonetheless necessary – hot pizza and icy beer (funny thing about being on the islands during inclement weather is that the fishers can’t go fishing, so our dinners were limited to rice and beans), and nothing left to do but pull ourselves up by the boot straps, plan another trip and keep our fingers crossed that this crazy atypical weather finally moves on to bother someone else… Heads Up!

By Olivier Raynaud, Barren Isles Project Coordinator

Apr 4

Angel’s Madagascar frog (Boehmantis microtympanum)

Species: Angel’s Madagascar frog (Boehmantis microtympanum)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Angel’s Madagascar frog is not known to produce any vocalisations and its external ear drum is much smaller than in most frog species.

More information: Angel’s Madagascar frog is a large-bodied frog species that has a marbled green-brown or grey pattern on the upper surface of its body, perfectly camouflaging it against the abundant moss-covered rocks in its habitat.

The impressive yet infrequent energetic movements of this species are only used when an individual is disturbed, and Angel’s Madagascar frog is relatively sedentary for the majority of the time. The main prey items of this species include insects, small freshwater crustaceans and smaller frogs, which it hunts for at dusk and generally devours whole. This long-living amphibian can live for up to seven years.

Local extinctions of Angel’s Madagascar frog have already occurred due to the extensive destruction of forest habitats throughout its range, especially in southeast Madagascar. As well as habitat loss and degradation, the introduction of an invasive eucalyptus species has also led to population declines in this species.

The range of Angel’s Madagascar frog includes two protected areas, the Andohela and Midongy-du-Sud National Parks, although further protection of this species’ habitat would be highly beneficial for its conservation. Promoting sustainable forestry practices within the local community would also help to mitigate the extensive habitat destruction that continues to remove huge expanses of naturally occurring forest across Madagascar.

Find out more about amphibians on the IUCN Red List

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar

See images of Angel’s Madagascar frog on ARKive

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

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