Combining training and local level knowledge is key to saving the Golden Mantella and its forest pond habitat. Tapping into local knowledge continues to pay dividends for SOS grantee Madagasikara Voakajy’s (MV) conservation work with the communities around the Mangabe forest in Madagascar.
Based on accounts from recently trained forest patrols there seemed to be many more Golden Mantella breeding ponds than originally estimated according to MV Director, Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka. Just exactly how many more breeding ponds was the question to be answered next.
“We were intrigued by these reports and so we organised a number of field trips in January and February to find out more”, explains Julie. While vital habitat for the Critically Endangered, Golden Mantella, some of these forest ponds are also used for illegal artisanal gold mining and in some cases agricultural activities. When MV started investigating the Golden Mantella in the Mangabe forest in 2008 they found just 24 breeding ponds, a number growing to 31 by the start of the SOS project in January 2012. Meanwhile that same process highlighted illegal activities such as destructive gold mining practices in other ponds within the protected area.
Consequently between January and February 2013, Julie’s team set out to visit all reported ponds, including areas not visited previously, and verify if they were indeed used by the Golden Mantella frog or not. In addition the team also assessed the quality of the habitat and estimated the abundance of Golden Mantellas in each of the occupied ponds.
In total, the team visited 90 ponds, of which 81 were located within the boundaries of Mangabe’s newly protected area and nine were at the edge. Among the ponds within the newly protected area, Golden Mantella frogs were present in 58 of those: 46 of which were within the strict conservation zone and nine in the sustainable use zone of the protected area. However, not all of the ponds were deemed healthy habitat. Two had been converted into rice fields, 18 were threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and nine were affected by illegal gold mining.
Moreover during a subsequent visit in March 2013 Julie’s team observed an upsurge of illegal gold mining in southern Mangabe, specifically at a pond called Maintimbato. Although the area was deserted at the time of the visit, locals had reported there were up to 500 people working there at one time. Thanks to the monitoring activities implemented by MV, local authorities and communities currently maintain a presence on site to request that miners fill the holes, put up signs that gold mining is prohibited and request miners to vacate the area.
While it is clear much remains to be done to eliminate and mitigate the various man-made pressures that continue to threaten the Golden Mantella and its forest pond habitat, the MV project is progressing and making positive impacts through its holistic approach to conservation. Commenting on the effectiveness of the forest patrols, Julie describes the process that helped identify all these new ponds:
“There are five forest patrollers per village amongst the local communities. They patrol the forest and the Golden Mantella ponds twice a month and send monthly reports to our office in Moramanga. If they find any illegal activities, we organize a mission with the local representative of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the police to visit the area and arrest people if necessary”.
Empowering the community through training and relying on their local knowledge is fundamental to the project’s sustainability. Indeed the prominent role of the Golden Mantella at the Mangabe festival in April 2013 testifies to the increasing value locals place on their unique amphibian neighbour.
“Most of the villagers engage in conservation efforts because they were born in Mangabe and have seen the forest degradation process, so they are conscious of the possible negative impact in the future. Moreover when they learnt that the Golden Mantella was unique to this district, they were very proud!” concludes Julie.