20/11/2017

Bristol conservationists and Bath designers join forces to help lemurs

Conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society and two Bath-based design firms have joined forces to help endangered lemurs in Madagascar.

The Society, landscape architect Grant Associates, the Richard Feilden Foundation and fellow Bath based architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, are working together on a project to save Madagascar’s critically endangered wildlife, including the blue-eyed black lemur, and its forest habitat.

They want to develop a research centre and a tourist camp in Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park.

At present, scientists and research students working at the centre use open-sided shelters with tin roofs.

The team has already surveyed the site and is now working on a collaborative proposal to create a research centre with modern facilities.

It could involve building a laboratory, accommodation for researchers, a manager’s office, dining and living areas and a kitchen.

Plans for the tourist camp include a classroom and accommodation for eco-tourists.

An equipped laboratory could enable more studies to undertake genetic analysis, parasite analysis and health screenings, and use sophisticated computer software to analyse lemur calls, which enables a rapid survey of what species are found in the forest fragments.

Dr Grainne McCabe, head of field conservation and science at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “We want to create a world class research station; a place that is more than just a building, a key site of science, conservation, innovation and education to benefit both wildlife and people.”

The design team has looked at the space available on the site as well as assessing the difficulties of transporting materials there, as it lies more than four hours’ drive along a poor road.

Dr McCabe said the proposed research station would have an added advantage because with people there full-time it would deter illegal activities, such as the hunting of lemurs and felling trees where they live.

Lemurs are only found in the wild in Madagascar, and many are critically endangered, with 94 per cent of species now classified as threatened with extinction, making them one of the most at-risk groups of large vertebrates.

Dr McCabe said: “For some species, if something doesn’t happen in the immediate future, we could lose them. Some species are down to handfuls of individuals.”

Andrew Grant, director of Grant Associates, said: “Madagascar is recognised as one of the most important, and most threatened, environments for global biodiversity. The island is at the forefront of projects aiming to minimise extinction of vulnerable species and has a remarkable and unique landscape that must be protected.

“We have always based our approach to landscape design on re-connecting people and nature. For our 20th anniversary we wanted to collaborate in a project that makes a significant contribution to global conservation and would capture the imagination of everyone who learned of it.

“Working with Bristol Zoological Society provides the perfect collaboration, not least because it marries the conservation of unique local wildlife with the improved economy for local people.”

Peter Clegg, chair of the Richard Feilden Foundation and Senior Partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios said: “We are delighted to be working on this exciting collaborative project with Grant Associates and Bristol Zoological Society, as part of the Richard Feilden Foundations’ ongoing work in Africa.

“The RFF was set up in memory of Richard Feilden. His connections with east Africa inspired him to share his skills and enthusiasm in order to make the world a better place and this is a fitting project for the foundation to contribute to.

“Architects from FCBStudios will be providing innovative architectural and building design expertise for the remote location in Ankarafa Forest, designing a series of simple buildings that will form the research camp for Bristol Zoo in northern Madagascar.”

In the long term the aim is for this centre to become internationally renowned for developing solutions to conservation problems and become a destination for PhD and masters students.

The centre could also provide work for local people as guides, managers and field researchers.

Bristol Zoological Society is one of 30 European zoos involved in the Association Europeenne pour l’Etude et la Conservation des Lemuriens (AEECL) which aims to safeguard the future of Madagascar’s lemur population.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents. 

Photo credit: M. Seiler

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