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P A G E 1 2
V O L . 2 , N O . 3
N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 3
In addition to my time in the forest, which constituted the bulk of my
project, I was also able to provide support for other DLC initiatives. This
included catching fish with my bare hands for the “fony” (
) harvest (I only screamed a little bit), attending training on how to
cultivate ovy-be (a giant yam rich in fiber), and taking a five-day trek into
remote Anjanaharibe-Sud Strict Nature Reserve to determine if the DLC
could support the park by building bungalows, toilets, and generally
improving tourism infrastructure. Anjanaharibe-Sud happens to be the
northern-most limit of the Indri (
Indri indri
), so it was an opportunity to
see an all-black morph of the largest living lemur species in the wild.
Incredibly, our guides were unable to find the indri for two days, but
Sophia and I spotted a group of three all by ourselves and were able to
follow them for 45 minutes even though they’re not yet fully habituated to
humans! It was also incredible to hear their magnificent and loud
vocalizations (audible for several kilometers) which are referred to as
“songs” due to their melodious and rhythmic pattern.
In addition to the work I did in the reserve and supporting the DLC’s conservation projects, I was also able to make
what will hopefully be lifelong relationships with my project partner, Sophia Staal, my mentor, Charles Welch, my
program coordinator, Dr. Erik Patel, and also the local Malagasy with whom I worked, specifically Desiré Rabary (the
founder and owner of Antanetiambo), Valerie (his wife), and Jackson (a prominent Marojejy National Park guide).
Two months sounds like quite a long time when you’re a 20-year old college student whose main hobbies include
attending every Duke basketball game with the pep band and planning events with Class Council, but two months
turned out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined going into it. My two months in Madagascar was one
of the most amazing experiences of my life and came to an end much too quickly. I often find myself thinking about my
time there and wishing desperately that I were back in Madagascar to relive the whole experience.
An adventurous summer of service
Cameron on a strangler fig.
As a political science major, working on a conservation project in rural Madagascar is perhaps not the most obvious
choice for a summer job. But if I have learned anything in my two years at Duke, it is that following norms and doing
what is “obvious” rarely leads to anything worthwhile. So I developed a project where I would be able to combine my
passion for the environment, my French language skills, and my policy background to make a valuable contribution to a
community. Madagascar, as a francophone country with a unique and highly endangered ecosystem, was an obvious
choice, and the Duke Lemur Center’s (DLC) new SAVA Conservation Project in northeastern Madagascar made them an
ideal partner. After meeting with Charlie Welch and Dr. Erik Patel, I decided to focus my project on the newly
established freshwater fish pond near the Antanetiambo Nature Reserve
While my peers were applying for internships in Washington DC or preparing to study international relations in
Geneva, I was researching the design and construction of fish farms and breeding and feeding procedures of African
cichlids, while drilling useful Malagasy phrases. I was envisioning weeks of wading waist-deep in murky pond water,
armed with a net and a thermometer. The reality came as a (happy) surprise.
The primary goal of my project was to conduct research examining local fish markets in the small town of Andapa.
The idea was to strengthen our understanding of the availability of fish and seafood in the area, and to determine what
From Political Science Major to Fish Market Expert
By Sophia Staal