Forests of Hope site - Tsitongambarika Forest, Madagascar

Participatory monitoring and public birdwatching events. Photo by Andriamandranto Ravoahangy, Asity Madagascar.
Participatory monitoring and public birdwatching events. Photo by Andriamandranto Ravoahangy, Asity Madagascar


Site name: Tsitongambarika Forest

Country: Madagascar

IBA(s): MG072

Location: Anosy region, Tolagnaro District, SE Madagascar

Site Area: 60,509 ha

Partner: Asity Madagascar -



Values of the site

The biodiversity of Madagascar is legendary, in terms of both richness and uniqueness. Tsitongambarika rises out of the coastal plain of south-east Madagascar, extending north from Tolagnaro town for about 70 km, and is the only area in the south-east that supports significant areas of lowland forest. These forests are unique even within Madagascar, with flora and fauna quite distinct from lowland forests elsewhere: many species of plant and animal at Tsitongambarika are endemic not just to Madagascar, but to south-east Madagascar, some being known only from this site.

Recent discoveries have included more than a dozen plant and animal species new to science, including frogs, lizards and snakes, and numerous other threatened species. Among bird species, Tsitongambarika holds most of the bird species of the rainforests of Madagascar, including threatened species such as the Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei, Brown Mesite Mesitornis unicolor, Short-legged Ground-roller Brachypteracias leptosomus, Scaly Ground-roller Brachypteracias squamiger and Red-tailed Newtonia Newtonia fanovanae. Four species of large lemur have been recorded at Tsitongambarika, including the rare Collared Brown Lemur Eulemur collaris, (Southern) Grey Bamboo Lemur Hapalemur (griseus) meridionalis and Southern Woolly Lemur Avahi meridionalis.

In terms of ecosystem services, the large area of forest results in a significant mass of carbon stored. The forests also protect the catchments of two of the Anosy region's major rivers: the Manampanihy and Efaho. These rivers and their tributaries are the main source of water for irrigation (essential for paddy rice cultivation) and domestic use for rural communities in the east of the region.

Tsitongambarika forest. Photo by Andriamandranto Ravoahangy, Asity Madagascar.


Key threats at the site include:

  • Shifting cultivation (the main threat)
  • Illegal logging
  • Hunting
  • Exploitation of fuel wood

In a largely subsistence economy with severe poverty, local communities depend on forest products to meet their daily needs. The forests are an important source of products such as firewood, charcoal, construction materials and lianas. Loss and degradation of forests therefore has major implications for livelihoods, and at the same time, sustainable forest use is at present integral to livelihoods.


Historical conservation approach.

Until recently, Tsitongambarika was unprotected. Two-thirds was designated as Classified Forest, while the remaining third in the north was designated as Public Domain Forest. This is in contrast to the nearby Andohahela massif, which was designated first as a Strict Nature Reserve, and then as a National Park; local communities needed access to forest resources to survive and such strict protection of Tsitongambarika was not feasible, nor, from a socio-economic perspective, desirable.

In recognition of the ongoing deforestation and the threat this posed to all the forest’s values (including to rural development), efforts to conserve Tsitongambarika with local communities began in the 1990s. Since 1999, management responsibility for parts of the forest have been transferred from poorly resourced Government staff to village associations, known as ‘CoBas’, with the intention of improving local livelihoods and conserving the forest. There are nearly 60 CoBas in total, covering the Classified Forests only; the Public Domain Forests were not included in this programme. However, this approach, a form of community-based management, did not prove sufficient to halt deforestation: the CoBas needed more support, alternative livelihoods options and monitoring to ensure success, and in the absence of this they became inactive.

Tsitongambarika is rich in endemic plants: Tambourissa religiosa. Photo by Andriamandranto Ravoahangy, Asity Madagascar.

New conservation approach

A new protected area: Since 2003, Madagascar has adopted a new course in natural resource management, to bring deforestation under control and support local communities: an initiative to overhaul the protected area system, creating new categories and governance systems in order to make the benefits of conservation more sustainable and compatible with sustainable development. Strong emphasis is placed on management by and with local communities, so that they benefit from conservation measures.

Tsitongambarika was quickly identified as a priority for protection under this new initiative. In 2008 much of Tsitongambarika forest was given ‘temporary protection’ by the Government. This followed detailed surveys and consultations with all local communities and other stakeholders, and the development of an interim management plan and governance arrangements.

Since then, detailed social and environmental impact analyses have been carried out, along with management planning, development of zones, boundary delimitation on the ground and further consultations with communities and other stakeholders, in order to secure permanent Protected Area status through a further decree. This has been applied for but the final decision is awaited.

Participatory monitoring programme:  One of the innovative methods Asity Madagascar is using to link conservation with community benefits is a programme of participatory monitoring with payments (or prizes) by results. In each community where the project works, an awareness-raising programme is followed by mapping with local communities, to zone the forest areas for different management objectives, such as conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable use. Communities then select and monitor key indicators of biodiversity and ecosystem health. The results are presented at community festivals and validated by expert teams from Asity Madagascar. Prizes take the form of funding for development projects chosen by the community, in proportion to positive changes in the state of, or pressures on, the forest and wildlife populations.

In effect, monitoring becomes not just a way of evaluating the effectiveness of the protected area; it also becomes part of the conservation approach itself. The cost of the prizes is not a major obstacle to achieving sustainability; all conservation approaches have ongoing costs and the prizes are so far proving highly cost-effective compared to more traditional protection strategies, for example those relying entirely on paid employees and equipment for enforcement.

Sustainable financing:  The site has considerable carbon offset potential if alternatives to shifting cultivation can be found. In addition, the importance of the area as water catchment for the region give rise to a further possible source of sustainable funding through payments for ecosystem services. Other sources of funding being investigated for the site are a trust fund and biodiversity offsets.

The conservation programme at Tsitongambarika resulting in this achievement has been supported by several organisations, most notably Rio Tinto and Rio Tinto QMM through its partnership programme with BirdLife International. Rio Tinto has long-term interests in safeguarding this critical area of humid forest, which forms a vitally important contribution to their overall commitment to minimising and potentially offsetting biodiversity impacts of its activities in the region; highly valued support has also been received from the MAVA Foundation, Conservation International, the Waterloo Foundation, the Wetland Trust and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, all recognising the enormous biodiversity value of this forest. 

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