Zoo Zurich's biggest commitment to nature conservation is in the Masoala region of Madagascar. Every year, it contributes at least 125,000 US dollars to the operating costs and sustainability fund of Masoala National Park. In addition, projects for rainforest conservation, reforestation, sustainable agriculture, water supply and hygiene as well as school education for children are supported in surrounding communities. These projects provide the population with economic alternatives to «slash and burn» methods in the rainforest and are carried out in close cooperation with Masoala National Park and the Wildlife Conservation Society WCS.
Video: Zoo Zürich, naturemovie.ch
Conservation in practice
The Masoala Peninsula is one of the three most biodiverse habitats in the world. New plant and animal species are constantly being discovered. As an ambassador for the beauty of Masoala, Zurich Zoo promotes the appreciation of the rainforest both in Switzerland and in Madagascar. The goal is to preserve Madagascar's great biodiversity in the long term and to ensure ecosystem services such as erosion control, fresh water and the fertility of agricultural crops outside the park in the long term.
Masoala National Park covers 2300 square kilometers, equivalent to the area of the cantons of Zurich and Glarus. Masoala is the largest protected area in Madagascar and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many plant and animal species, such as the Red Vari, can only be found there.
About 90% of the rainforest in Madagascar has already been cleared. The resulting areas can often only be used for agriculture for a short time, because erosion quickly carries away the fertile soil. As a result, huge areas of formerly fertile forest in Madagascar have now degenerated into uneconomic steppes. The impoverished and rapidly growing population is putting additional pressure on the last forest areas. Slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy), the illegal timber trade and uncontrolled hunting of wildlife are the biggest conservation problems in Madagascar.
The focus is on improving yields in wet rice cultivation. Through the introduction of Système Riziculture Intensivé SRI, up to seven times more rice can be harvested per hectare - without the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Zoo Zurich also finances small-scale water engineering projects, thanks to which more than 400 hectares of farmland are irrigated. The most recent sustainable agriculture project is the establishment of cocoa production. These projects are intended to provide the local population with further economic alternatives to slash-and-burn rainforest clearing. The so-called buffer zone of the national park may be used sustainably by the surrounding communities. In this way, responsibility for the rainforest is returned to the local population.
Water channels ensure efficient irrigation of the rice fields. Photo: Zurich Zoo, Martin Bauert
Cacao and clove cultivation in Makira. Video: WCS Madagascar
With the help of various foundations, Zoo Zurich has been able to build a large number of tree nurseries. These produce over 50,000 tree seedlings annually, which are used to reforest several forest corridors. These corridors connect various protected areas and are essential for genetically healthy wildlife populations. Together with the Silo National des Graines Forestières SNGF, Zoo Zurich supports the establishment of a seed bank and herbaria of rare trees from Madagascar. The seeds are also used to grow trees for the Masoala Rainforest at Zoo Zurich.
In Andranoanala, over 60'000 trees were grown from seed and planted. Photo: Zoo Zürich, Martin Bauert
A milestone was the opening of the MaMaBay Environmental Campus in Maroansetra. The campus includes an information center on Masoala National Park and Makira Nature Park, an open classroom for local schools, an eco-shop for local handicraft products, and is intended as a gateway to the national park. In addition to the information center, three other school buildings on the Masoala Peninsula were co-financed.
More than 250 children are members of the Conservation Education Center's conservation clubs. Photo: Zoo Zurich, Martin Bauert
In 2009, the illegal trade in tropical woods such as rosewood increased dramatically and got out of control by 2011. Zoo Zurich was instrumental in helping to expose the illegal trade in rosewood during this time. As a result, European and American companies were held accountable. Together with the ETH Zurich, a DNA test was developed that allows to determine the origin of the wood and thus to distinguish illegal from legal tropical wood.
Tropical wood in Masoala. Photo: Zoo Zurich, Martin Bauert
In the Tamatave region, Zoo Zurich has been involved for 20 years by supporting the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group MFG. This international association of zoos and research institutions runs a small zoo in Ivoloina with confiscated animals, a forestry and agricultural station as well as educational projects for primary school students, young women and authorities. This comprehensive concept of environmental education was awarded by UNICEF and adopted as a model for other regions of Madagascar.
Zoo Zurich is climate neutral and offsets its residual CO2 emissions in full with certificates from the Makira Nature Park. Makira is a forest area near Masoala National Park and validated as a REDD+ project. REDD stands for «Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation» and refers to projects in which deforestation is prevented and reforestation is promoted. By preserving Makira Nature Park, 33 million tons of CO2 emissions can be prevented over the next 30 years. Half of the proceeds from this project go directly to supporting the local population.
«Masoala News» is published by Masoala National Park.