The last programme in the Attenborough series ‘Madagascar: Island of Marvels’ aired on Wednesday 2nd March featuring our silk project as a perfect example of providing a viable solution to deforestation. The programme titled ‘Attenborough and the Giant Egg’ looked back to Attenborough’s first visit to the island in 1960 when he gathered the shell of an elephant bird. The pieces of shell which remarkably constructed the whole egg is still held dearly by Attenborough today as one of his most valuable resources. It was interesting to read recently how Attenborough had no idea then how this venture would launch his remarkable career, consequently generating a huge interest in the natural world by his followers.
The elephant bird which is now extinct is similar in its structure to that of a giant ostrich. In the programme Attenborough tried to shed some light into what is happening on the island today and to send a clear message about protecting other endangered species before it is too late. This message we hope will stick in the minds of those supporting the work of Feedback Madagascar and our local partner Ny Tanintsika enabling us to continue to conserve parts of Madagascar’s forests.
Since Attenborough’s last visit to the island 80% of its native forest has been destroyed, the human population has quadrupled and many species are now on the verge of extinction! It can be depressing to think about.
Of course as many reviews of the series have pointed out there are the positives that today’s times has brought. Many new species have and are still being discovered in Madagascar – most recently the new species of bird ‘Mentocrex Beankaensis’ which resides in the west of the island in the Beanka Forest (an area currently managed by Biodiversity Conservation Madagascar (BCM)). Another recent discovery has been the new species of Belalanda Chameleon noted by the Durell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. And of course we must credit how far we have come today with scientific progress greatly enhancing research – such carbon-dating techniques which were used on the egg to predict its age of 1,300 years.
However these developments cannot distract from the message of the programme. It is crucial for the people, wildlife and endemic species of the island for us to act now to up our conservation efforts and to stop all avenues enhancing deforestation.
To keep the island’s marvels we must seek solutions to problems preventing conservation. Feedback Madagascar’s silk project was featured on the programme as an excellent example of conservation and development hand in hand. The silk project works to conserve the Tapia forest by promoting silk production. Attenborough commented on this “I hope the Madagascar programmes will please you and that they will help in drawing attention to the island’s extraordinary wildlife and the work that…you and your organisation are doing to help conservation there“.
The Tapia forest is the food of the wild silkworms (both Tapia and wild silkworms are endemic to Madagascar). We pay protective households of the forest to protect the Tapia and we train them on breeding silkworms. By setting up firewalls, reforesting land and removing pine trees (which prevent Tapia growth) these households are helping to conserve the last remnants of the highlands as well as being able to make a living. At the same time we train women on how to weave silk, providing them with spinning wheels and other equipment as well as promoting marketing for their silk product so they also have a sustainable income.
For more on our project and to find out how you can make a further contribution please see our silk project page on our website.