Ambohimanga, Madagascar

In 2003 a remarkable partnership was formed between Dr Alison Jolly, a Lewes based primatologist specialising in the social behaviour of lemurs in Madagascar, and Dr John Parry of the Railway Land Wildlife Trust, both of whom saw huge value in small nature reserves. Alison was among the first to argue that conservation must recognise the needs of local people.  She nurtured students in Madagascar and brought a leading researcher, Dr Hanta Rasamimanana, to Lewes where they visited the Railway Land.  This was insightful for all, and led to a conservation project in Madagascar that the Trust sponsored between 2011 and 2021.

Alison Jolly with Lemurs

Picture Dr John Parry

Dr Alison Jolly

Ambohimanga Hill

When Hanta visited the Railway Land in 2011, she was uncharacteristically incensed: “How dare you say we must save pristine forests, and forbid hungry people to use their ancestral land because it is Madagascar’s original forest! The South Downs looks just like our rainforest hills after they have been cleared for grazing. Your scientists even admit that they have to keep vigilant that the South Downs don’t go back to growing brambles and then their original trees!”

Nonetheless, Hanta could see parallels between Ambohimanga and the Railway Land, and the value to local people of a nature reserve that they can access easily., especially when this is backed up with educational and engagement activities.

As it happens, one of the last bits of original forest on Madagascar’s plateau is only ten minutes’ drive from Hanta’s house, 20 km from the capital Antananarivo, and one of the few “tourist” sites that Malagasy willingly visit.  This is Ambohimanga, the “Blue Hill”, not called blue because of its forest, but because blue is the colour of sacred and noble things.  Ambohimanga is the seat of Kings and Queens.

Ambohimanga Hill

Dr Hanta Rasamimanana, Picture Dr John Parry

So the Trust supported Hanta with a ten year grant, from 2011-2021, to enable her to work with local people in integrating conservation and community development in and around of Ambohimanga’s forest.

Since 2012, the range of work carried out by Hanta and her students has been vibrant and illuminating. Initial fieldwork to deepen local understanding of the site – both ecologically and in terms of how it is used by local people and visitors from further afield - has led to projects in primary education, to the signposting of paths through the forest and tours being given in cooperation with the Ambohimanga Palace guides, and to the advancement of knowledge about grass species that might protect the forest from fire.

Ambohimanga Hill
Ambohimanga Hill

More recently, the project has employed a member of staff to progress future plans. These plans are  exciting and combine scientific research with education, training and the development of sustainable incomes for local guides, based on a deeper understanding and appreciation of the forest.

Picture Dr John Parry

Hanta's work in providing inspirational educational visits as well as the support for local people to develop sustainable livelihoods continues to go from strength to strength. In 2021 the NGO  Fanambinantsoa was established with the aims of:

  1. Education

    • Teacher training

    • Educational visit for primary, secondary and university students

    • Community education (including parents)

  2. Socio-economic development

    • Support for income-generating activities: beekeeping, food processing, etc.

    • Creation of local activities: hygiene, sanitation… .etc.

    • Professionalization of the profession

  3. Conservation

    • Visit of cultural and natural heritage

    • Preservation and restoration of natural and cultural heritage

You can see the Fanambinantsoa website here