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Burney Expedition

First fossa encounter
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2,000 years ago
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Dan Grossman - Biography

Within the last several years I have traveled once to Antarctica and twice to the Arctic, searching for lessons about the impact of global warming on the people, plants and animals of Earth. While on my last trip to these sparsely populated, frigid lands, I decided that on my next expeditions I would try to learn about the health of wildlife in Earth's warm places, closer to the equator, where most the world's diversity of life, and many of its people, reside.

The African island of Madagascar is near the top of every list of places with the most diverse and unusual plants and animals. Its forests, where most of its wildlife lives, are also among the most threatened in the world. I decided to learn about this far-off land by making a series of expeditions with some of the leading researchers who study Madagascar's plants and animals.

  • The Society of Environmental Journalists: AWARDS:
  • The National Association of Science Writers: 2005 Science in Society Journalism Awards
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science: 2005 Recipient: Online
  • Over the next year I visited each of the major ecosystems in Madagascar, the spiny bush, the humid forest and the dry forest. I accompanied a team of Malagasy biologists to survey the wildlife of a remote humid forest parcel in the Marotandrano National Park. One night, while I watched, herpetologist Achille Raselimanana discovered a completely new species of chameleon. Later, while I was visiting the Ranomafana National Park, lemur expert Patricia Wright discovered a new species of lemur.

    In Madagascar's Ankarafantsika National Park, I met Luke Dollar, who is studying Madagascar's largest predator, the elusive fossa. I accompanied biologist David Burney to the spiny bush, the home some of the world's strangest plants. Burney is seeking to explain why all of Madagascar's largest animals, including the 10-foot-tall flightless elephant bird, went extinct after humans arrived about 2,300 years ago.

    Traveling to towns in Madagascar's humid forest, I met Karen and Mark Freudenberger, who are trying to help farmers use their land more efficiently so that they won't have to clear more virgin forest. I discovered that there is hope that Madagascar will become the world's first victory in the campaign to preserve Earth's living inheritance, though there is also the danger that it could become the first major failure.

    A Modified Land
    People arrived in Madagascar only about 2,300 years ago. Yet the landscape almost everywhere on the island bears the unmistakable imprint of human colonizers.

    Forest Expedition
    A team journeys to an isolated parcel of virgin forest to learn what wildlife is there. Working night and day with nets, traps, binoculars and flashlights they discover new animals and count old ones.

    Forest Research Team
    It takes a cook, a driver, several scientists, forest guides and porters to operate a forest survey. Meet some members of the team that studied the Marotandrano Special Reserve in 2004.

    Population: 17,501,871 (July 2004 )
    Area: 587,040 sq km (less than twice the size of Arizona)
    Capital: Antananarivo
    Agricultural Products: Coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts; livestock products
    Language: French (official), Malagasy (official)
    Currency: Malagasy franc (MGF)

    Source: www.cia.gov


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