Community-Based Wetland Conservation Protects Endangered Species in Madagascar: Lessons from Science and Conservation

Richard T. Watson, Lily Arison René de Roland, Jeanneney Rabearivony, Russell Thorstrom


Survival                of the Madagascar fish eagle (Haliaeetus vociferoides) is threatened by habitat loss. Of a population estimated at 100-120 breeding pairs, 10 pairs breed on three adjacent lakes in western Madagascar.  Fishing on the lakes is the main livelihood of local Sakalava people. From 1991 through 1995 we documented a massive              influx of migrant fishermen who abused local traditional resource extraction rules and threatened the livelihood of local inhabitants, as well as the survival of one of the world’s most endangered eagles. Migrants’ economic incentive was strong. In 1995 per capita income from fishing was about USD1500 for the six-month season, about 7.5 times the national annual average. Fish stocks were rapidly diminished through the fishing season as catches diminished to the point where fishermen gave   up fishing before the end of the season. Fish stocks were lowest when Madagascar fish eagle nestlings fledged, affecting annual productivity. The most serious impact of fishermen may be on the lake-side forest, which was used as a source of dugout canoes and wood to fuel fishdrying fires. To conserve this important breeding site we worked with the local community to enhance and enforce traditional resource utilization rules that helped    prevent                loss of fish eagle breeding habitat, reduce nest site disturbance, and sustain prey availability. We used a 1996 law to empower communities to control natural resource use by creating two community associations with authority to enforce local rules. We helped the associations become               effective through training, advice, logistical, and scientific support.

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