Between a death and a burial was hardly the best time to show up in a remote village in Madagascar to make a pitch for forest protection. Bad timing, however, turned out to be the easy problem.
This forest was the first one that botanist Armand Randrianasolo had tried to protect. He’s the first native of Madagascar to become a Ph.D. taxonomist at Missouri Botanical Garden, or MBG, in St. Louis. So he was picked to join a 2002 scouting trip to choose a conservation site.
Other groups had already come into the country and protected swaths of green, focusing on “big forests; big, big, big!” Randrianasolo says. Preferably forests with lots of big-eyed, fluffy lemurs to tug heartstrings elsewhere in the world.
The Missouri group, however, planned to go small and to focus on the island’s plants, legendary among botanists but less likely to be loved as a stuffed cuddly. The team zeroed in on fragments of humid forest that thrive on sand along the eastern coast. “Nobody was working on it,” he says.
As the people of the Agnalazaha forest were mourning a member of their close-knit community, Randrianasolo decided to pay his respects: “I wanted to show that I’m still Malagasy,” he says. He had grown up in a seaside community to the north.
The village was filling up with visiting relatives and acquaintances, a great chance to talk with many people in the region. The deputy mayor conceded that after a morning visit to the bereaved, Randrianasolo and MBG’s Chris Birkinshaw could speak in the afternoon with anyone wishing to gather at the roofed marketplace.