Betampona’s 2,228 hectares of lowland rainforest is completely surrounded by a human-dominated landscape of farmed and degraded land interspersed amongst 25 main village hubs. The remaining very small forest fragments outside the reserve are predicted to disappear within a decade. To date, the presence of conservation agents and researchers is the most likely reason hunting is low compared to other areas. However, the growing level of food insecurity due to unsustainable use of natural resources, limited off-farm income opportunities and an expanding human population will markedly increase anthropogenic pressures on Betampona’s flora and fauna.
The project team will work in close collaboration with local communities on two initiatives to:
1) Distribute and promote the use of fuel-efficient cooking stoves to reduce wood use;
2) Vaccinate chickens against Newcastle disease;
These activities are relevant and respond to key issues identified in previous research. For example two studies, performed in 2007 and 2013 found that nearly 100% of the households in the Betampona landscape cook with locally-collected firewood or locally-produced charcoal. Further the 2013 study showed that the majority of people living near Betampona preferred chicken to bushmeat but high poultry deaths from disease increased the need for alternative protein sources.
The project team will hire seven local women to raise awareness about the health benefits of reduced cooking smoke in the home and environmental advantages of using fuel-efficient stoves, distribute the stoves, provide training on their use and assess their uptake within households.
The project aims to target 700 households over the 3-year period. The fuel-efficient stoves can reduce wood consumption by up to 50% so if the local population can be persuaded to use them this initiative could go a long way towards protecting the forest of Betampona Reserve, which is home to 11 lemur species, including the 3 Critically Endangered species specifically targeted by this project: Indri, Diademed Sifaka and the Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur.
The chicken vaccination initiative will focus on vaccinating at least 90% of the chickens in 12 target villages for Newcastle disease: shown to be the most widespread disease affecting chickens in two studies carried out in Madagascar. In each village, the project team will hold a meeting with its leaders and residents to explain the vaccination initiative and ask for their input and answer questions. Twelve individuals, each selected by their village leaders, will be trained in vaccinating chickens, the importance of adhering to vaccination intervals and record-keeping. By reducing chicken mortalities through disease the aim is to increase family income and hence food-security, thereby reducing the need for supplementing the family diet through bushmeat collection. This should directly reduce hunting pressure on lemurs in the Betampona Reserve.
The project aims to encourage a 95% uptake of use of the fuel-efficient stoves in the 700 household target audience over the three years of the project, reducing household wood consumption by up to 50%. Success will be ascertained through participant surveys. The reduced wood consumption should help to protect the ever-diminishing forest cover in and around Betampona and, although very challenging, we will attempt to directly measure the impact on forest degradation rates through more intensive patrol surveillance and remote-sensing. By protecting lemur habitat, the project team will help to conserve lemur populations long-term in Betampona Reserve.
The project also aims to reduce chicken mortality through disease by 40% in the twelve target villages through a Newcastle disease vaccination programme. By improving food security in individual households through improved chicken husbandry we hope to reduce the level of bushmeat collection by 20%. This will be measured through household surveys and surveillance patrols for evidence of trapping.