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Monday, 21st June 2021

A Day in the Life of an SCRP Researcher

By Polly Hedley, with Hoby Tsimijaly and Tsiraiky Rossizela

If lockdown has taught us one thing it’s that we’re all ready for an adventure! Whilst national restrictions are beginning to ease here in the UK, international travel has still yet to take off, leaving many of us daydreaming about our next trip away. So, whilst we patiently wait for Madagascar to be added to the elusive green list, in this week’s blog we speak to Hoby and Tsiraiky, our two national researchers for SEED’s Conservation and Research Programme (SCRP).

Hoby has worked for SEED for over 13 years and Tsiraiky for eight, and both are highly experienced and knowledgeable in wildlife conservation. Since international staff of SCRP have been working virtually since April 2020, the pair have led SEED’s environment and conservation research over the past year. I had so much fun talking with Hoby and Tsiraiky about their roles and life in Madagascar. I hope the following blog can provide you with two minutes of escapism until we can get back out there. Or, if you fancy joining us.. maybe we could even see you there on our volunteer programme once it opens up again!

Hoby Tsimijaly
RETSIRAIKY Jean Rossizela-min.jpg
Tsiraiky Rossizela

Hi Hoby and Tsiraiky, thank you so much for your time today. To get us started, how would you describe Madagascar to someone who has never been before? 

Hoby: Madagascar is the fourth biggest island in the world that is incredibly rich in biodiversity- 4.5% of the world’s biodiversity is only found in Madagascar. It is a beautiful island, it has amazing weather (it’s currently really hot) and the people here are really easy going and friendly. 

Tsiraiky: Madagascar is known for its high levels of biodiversity and is especially popular for the lemurs as well as many species of birds and reptiles. Madagascar is also one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, there has been no civil war. There are two seasons in Madagascar- winter (April- August) and summer (October- March). The West of the country is flat and mountainous whereas in the East there is the rainforest. We work 50km to the North of Fort Dauphin in the South East, in the littoral forest of Sainte Luce. 

What projects are you working on currently? 

T- Our most recent bush trips have all gone well. We are conducting lemur and herpetofauna transects for Project Ala, monitoring the mahampy wetlands with Project Mahampy and counting and tracking the bats for Project Rufus.  

What does your monthly schedule look like? 

T-  We are based in Fort Dauphin and spend 15 days every two months in the bush for research [Sainte Luce]. The rest of our time is spent back in the SEED office in Fort Dauphin to write up the bush reports.

H- Our schedule can also change if other projects need extra support. I did more trips to the bush in March to support research with Project Oratsimba because there was not enough staff.

T- Our favourite aspect of the role is the conservation that we usually do with the volunteers. I enjoy the research because you learn and you connect with the animals at the same time.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

H- For me, it is working in the field on conservation research. I enjoy our work on amphibians and reptiles because there are 500 species of amphibians here and almost all are endemic to Madagascar. I also enjoy working on bird surveys to monitor the different species of birds in Sainte Luce.  

T- When the volunteers are here for the conservation research programme, I enjoy the time we get to spend with them in the bush and sharing Malagasy culture. I enjoy studying the lemurs and the herpetofauna research with Project Ala.

Tsiraiky conducting herpetology research

 What do you get up to in the SCRP camp? 

H- We chill in the camp in the evening. I like to play the guitar and have a bonfire. When the volunteers are here we discuss our day together. We also play petanque which is a french game like boules. 

T- I like to do lots of exercise and jogging. Hoby is better at boules!

Watch your step...

What’s it like working in the bush at night?

T- So cool! It’s amazing spotting the shiny eyes of lemurs in the forest. We spend around two hours in the forest and rota with each other every other night to cover the shifts. 

H- During the summer months it can be too hot to be in the bush in the day so it is better because the temperature is much cooler. For some animals it is easier to spot them at night such as the Pygmy chameleon and Tenrec hedgehog. The Pygmy chameleons live in a small tree and have a white colour which can make it hard to find in the day because the colour is similar to the leaf. It can be easier to see them at night because they sleep 15cm off the ground. There are a lot of new things to see at night. It is also an opportunity to see the leaf tail gecko which is easier to spot sleeping in the trunk of the trees. 

What has been one of the most memorable moments from your trips to the bush?

T- One of my most memorable trips was one of the first bush trips we took without volunteers last year. It was our first time discovering the mahampy swamp with GPS and we were chased and stung by wasps as we tried to find it! 

H- We also had the wrong coordinates for one of the wetlands we were trying to find meaning we couldn’t find it for a whole day. It was funny and an adventure.  

We recently saw that the world's smallest chameleon was discovered in Madagascar in February. What is your favourite animal/plant to find? 

T- The Anosy mouse lemur is my favourite to find because it is tiny and adorable. I also enjoy spotting the Leaf tail gecko because it is really hard to find.

H- The ring tail lemur is great to see in the spiny forest. The ground boa is my favourite snake. The Ghost Gecko is also rare to find because it is endangered. It can only be seen in Sainte Luce, about 100km North. 

How do you involve local communities with your work?

T- We teach kids about conservation in the local community. We work as well with people in local organisations if we organise a meeting with the community. We have good communication with them and have trained local guides from the community too. 

H- In Project Ala we work with local people to plant the trees. 

What are some of the more challenging aspects of the role? 

T- The heat makes it more challenging to work in the day because we have to walk long distances.

H- The cyclone season can make it difficult to work in the bush if the river gets high it is difficult to do the research. Thunder and lightning can also be a problem because it means we can’t do the work and we have to stay in camp. 

How has your work changed over the last year? 

T- The current drought has meant that some of the native trees are dying in the open canopy area. We have also been working by ourselves because no volunteers have been able to join us. We haven’t been able to see the mouse lemur for almost a year. 

H- Covid has affected our research in Sainte Luce. Covid has meant that people don’t have much money so are taking firewood and timber from protected areas to sell for money. The drought also caused a big fire that destroyed some of the mahampy wetlands. This has made it harder to research the mahampy reedbeds.

Fire in Wetland 14 due to the drought

After a difficult year last year, what are you looking forward to in the remainder of 2021? 

T- I wish to discover new things. I hope to see the mouse lemur again in 2021- I miss my lemur friends. We also need the rain because the drought makes it really hard to find water to drink or cook. I would also love to have the international staff and volunteers return. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved with conservation? 

T- To join us in Madagascar! Conservation is really cool to protect because we conserve ourselves when we protect nature too. Bring a camera because you don’t know what you’ll see.

H- Bring insect repellent, tent and a raincoat- it is good to be prepared in winter when the rain can catch you by surprise.  

How would you describe your job in three words? 

T- Fun, interesting, loveable. 

H- Lovely, interesting, adventure. 

Now for our final question that we can’t go without asking- what is your favourite animal in Madagascar and why? 

T- The blue eyed black lemur found in the North of Madagascar. The dimorphism is really different- the males are really black and the females are orange. I learnt a lot about lemurs at university. 

H- The ring tailed lemur because it is special in Madagascar. 

Thank you both so much, we can’t wait to join you out there!