New protected areas in Madagascar
The Mahavavy-Kinkony Wetland Complex, Mangoky-Ihotry Wetland Complex and Tsitongambarika Forest are now permanent Protected Areas, co-managed with local communities by Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner). This was confirmed by the Government of Madagascar on 21 April 2015. Formerly temporary Protected Areas, they were made permanent thanks primarily to the efforts of Asity Madagascar. This, alongside the development of Asity Madagascar as a strong, national conservation NGO, is the pinnacle of achievement of, arguably, the whole 18 years since BirdLife had a permanent presence in Madagascar – so much of what BirdLife havs done has been building to this.
In the late 1990s, BirdLife implemented a two-year programme of Important Bird and Biodiversity (IBA) surveys and desk study, resulting in a national directory and chapter in the 2001 African IBA Directory. This pioneering work also led to identification of wider priorities for conservation, and clearly pointed to the importance of, and high degree of threat to, wetlands. In 2001, the BirdLife country programme focused its attention on to site conservation, particularly wetlands, and on capacity building towards representation by a BirdLife partner NGO. Plans were made, funds were raised, and the Country Programme was reinvogorated while developing links to a small (but the only) bird conservation NGO, called Asity, which had been inspired by the first IBA workshop 5 years earlier. In 2003, the Mahavavy-Kinkony Complex became the site of the first of BirdLife/Asity’s big field projects, working in the delta of the Mahavavy River and associated mangroves, lakes and marshes including Lake Kinkony. In 2004, work began in the Mangoky-Ihotry Complex, also composed of a larger delta (of the Mangoky River) and lakes and marshes including Lake Ihotry. And in 2005, Asity and BirdLife Madagascar Programme surveyed Tsitongambarika Forest, a rainforest in the South-East close to Rio Tinto’s intended mine site, finding it largely intact but threatened and full of local endemic fauna and flora; soon after, a conservation programme was launched there.
Also in 2003, at the World Parks Congress, the Government announced a plan to treble its Protected Area coverage using new governance systems to place management of natural ecosystems on a more sustainable footing, for the benefit of the country and its people as well as for global benefits. The three sites were fairly quickly adopted among the targets, but the process to get sites protected was rigorous and not simple. However, the BirdLife Madagascar Programme and Asity managed the process and the extensive consultations as ‘promoter’ for all three sites, and Mahavavy-Kinkony was among the first sites nationally to gain ‘temporary’ protection in 2007, followed by the other two sites in 2008. There was much to do (further exhaustive consultation and planning, social safeguards, management plan and many other requirements) to move to permanent protection, all while needing to manage the conservation of the site. At all sites, a Local Conservation Group (LCG) approach was adopted under locally appropriate legal systems with co-management between the LCGs and Asity Madagascar.
Meanwhile, the capacity-building programme also bore fruit, as in 2008 the country programme was merged into Asity, which was renamed Asity Madagascar and admitted to the BirdLife network.
However, although work on the ground continued, legal development of the Protected Areas programme was largely frozen for 5 years (2009-2014) by political instability. The new Government announced the end of this impasse at World Parks Congress in November 2014, declaring that the process launched at the previous Parks Congress would be completed in 2015. After feverish activity and preparation, the necessary dossiers were prepared, refined, resubmitted and debated, and on 21 April 2015 a Decree for permanent protection of all three sites, along with 24 others, was passed. Mahavavy-Kinkony, Mangoky-Ihotry and Tsitongambarika are permanent Protected Areas, co-managed with local communities by Asity Madagascar.