Promoting restoration in Mitsinjo’s forest

Climate change is a global phenomenon which concerns also Madagascar. Many parts of the island suffer from drought, because there has not been enough rain. The water reserves have dwindled, which has contributed to the decrease of capacity in energy production all over the country. Dryness has also affected agriculture. To fight against climate change and to mitigate its impact, the government of Madagascar has initiated a national program for planting trees in the whole country. The program is implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Ecology and Forests. The planting campaign 2017-2018 was officially launched in December 2017 in Ambohibary, in the district of Moramanga.

On 3 February 2018, the campaign organised an event in Andasibe in collaboration with Mitsinjo. The Ministry was represented by the director of Alaotra Mangoro region (DREEF – Diréction régionale de l’environnement, de l’écologie et des forêts) and by the Moramanga district office (CIREEF – Circonscription de l’environnement, de l’écologie et des forêts). The National association of forest engineers (AIM – Association d’ingénieurs forestiers nationale) and the Association of forest engineers of Alaotra Mangoro were represented by their presidents. The deputy secretary general of Madagascar National Parks was also attending and there was a representative from Ambatovy. From Mitsinjo, president Jean Noël NDRIAMIARY and three other staff members participated in the event. The other participants were forest engineers from the Moramanga district. Altogether, 40 people had gathered to Mitsinjo’s office. A journalist from Moramanga TV had come to follow the occasion and recorded it on video.

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Mad RANDRIANASOLO, Restoration manager (2nd from the left) explains the various steps of planting

After welcome speeches, the guests were led to the forest. The planting area had been prepared close to Mitsinjo’s office in Ankahizinina along a restoration circuit. It is part of a site that was reforested in 2016 by the Manondroala project. 300 seedlings of 32 different species of native trees were there ready waiting. They had been brought from Mitsinjo’s tree nurseries. In the Alaotra Mangoro region, Mitsinjo is the only association to grow and plant native trees. The seedlings were its contribution to the event.

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Mitsinjo’s President Jean Noël NDRIAMIARY teaching his youngest children

Before the work started, Mr Mad RANDRIANASOLO, Mitsinjo’s restoration manager planted one seedling to show how it should be done. After the demonstration, the participants spread around the site and it did not take long before all seedlings had been planted. In less than an hour the work was over, thanks to Mitsinjo’s tree planters. They had prepared the site beforehand. They had transported the seedlings, cleaned the area and dug the holes. All that the event participants had to do was to make place for the seedling, remove the plastic pot and put the seedling into the hole. The last step was to fill the empty space with soil tightly around the plant. Then it was time to move to the next seedling.

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Forest engineers at work

When all trees had been planted, the group returned to Mitsinjo’s office. In the meeting hall, tables were set with snacks and drinks. It was time to relax and celebrate together before going home. The event was closed by RAKOTOSONINA Henri, president of the Association of forest engineers of Alaotra Mangoro who thanked all participants for their contribution.

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Tables are set. Sitting on seats of honour  Paul RAHONTSOA, vice president of AIM – Association d’ingénieurs forestiers nationale (on the left), RAKOTOSONINA Henri, president of the Association of forest engineers of Alaotra Mangoro and RAKOTONOELY, the eldest of forest engineers in the Alaotra Mangoro region

Mitsinjo has been doing reforestation for over 10 years. Cooperation with the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation in the Manondroala project in 2012-2017 has considerably increased knowledge of and experience in restoration and forest conservation among the Mitsinjo staff. The association has become a recognized professional in the field of forest restoration. The Ministry of Environment and the University of Antananarivo are important partners in this work.

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Golden Mantella Released from Captivity to Help Wild Population

Mantella aurantiaca, the Golden frog is an amphibian species endemic to Madagascar. It occurs only in a very limited area around the town of Moramanga including the Torotorofotsy wetland near Andasibe. Due to its restricted distribution, the Golden mantella is considered Critically Endangered. The species is threatened by habitat loss caused by human activities. Also, the amphibian chytrid fungus might put it at risk.

To mitigate population declines and the threat of extinction, assurance populations caught from three sites on the footprint of the Ambatovy nickel and cobalt mine were established in captivity by Mitsinjo in 2012. In 2013, a reintroduction programme was prepared and the breeding centre started to raise an additional number of frogs with a future release in mind.

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Adult Golden Mantella at the Mitsinjo captivity breeding center

The preparations of this first release trial began in 2016. Four receptor sites were selected and restored by Ambatovy in collaboration with the University of Antananarivo. The sites are in protected zones close to the ponds where the animals belonging to the original founder stock had been caught. The release took place on three consecutive days from 26 to 28 April 2017, following disease screening to ensure captive stock was in good health. Golden Mantella produced in captivity by Mitsinjo, including more than 1,000 larvae and frogs, were taken early in the morning and transported in plastic boxes from the centre to the receptor sites. A soft-release method was used for adults and juveniles. This means that the animals were not immediately released into the natural sites but acclimatized to wild conditions by keeping them in protecting cages. Tadpoles at earlier life stages were released using the hard-release method, directly into the closed habitat. Ambatovy and the University of Antananarivo are conducting monitoring of the frogs and larvae produced by Mitsinjo.

A Mitsinjo technician at the breeding centre assists Ambatovy staff move frogs from a terrarium to containers for transport:

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Plastic containers for transporting frogs to receptor sites

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The team from the University and Ambatovy come to collect frogs at the Mitsinjo captive breeding center.

The official launch of the reintroduction of the Golden mantella was organised on 19 May 2017 in Andasibe. 72 people participated in the seminar, representing the Ministry of the Environment, Ecology and Forests, local and regional authorities, environmental organisations and the Ambatovy mining company. The member of Parliament elected from Moramanga opened the seminar officially. There were also many journalists who were interested in the release. A press conference was held on 18 and 19 May.

The frogs have been monitored after the release and the results look promising. The whole release programme will last two years. It is implemented in close collaboration between the stakeholders which include the General Directorate of Forests DGF (Direction Générale des Forêts), the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar, the Biodiversity team of Ambatovy Minerals, Association Mitsinjo, Madagasikara Voakajy, and the Universities of Antananarivo and Mahajanga.

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Mesh field enclosure for soft release of tadpoles constructed by the Biodversity team of Ambatovy and the University.

Recent Achievements in Conservation Frog Breeding

By Sebastian Wolf

In early 2016 Mitsinjo’s frog team brought several new, locally occurring frog species into the breeding facility, some of which had never been kept in captivity before.

After acclimatization we were curious when or if they would start breeding. Natural reproduction period of most local frogs starts with the first rains in December or January, yet the 2016-2017 season has been different due to the fact that rain was largely missing until now. Fortunately, Mitsinjo’s captive frogs did not care about this dry “wet season” as they continued to overwhelm us with eggs. All species in our facility except of one at least produced eggs and tadpoles and the first young tadpoles have successfully metamorphosed into froglets by now (sometimes incredibly tiny creatures like the one in the picture, an already 3 week old Platypelis barbouri which is roughly 4 mm in size).

Platypelis barbouri was one of the new species Mitsinjo acclimated to captivity in 2016.

Platypelis barbouri was one of the new species Mitsinjo acclimated to captivity in 2016.

There are two crucial issues in frog breeding: finding out which climatic and microhabitat conditions trigger reproduction, and caring for – often plenty – of froglets that need large quantities of small prey insects. Small changes in cage design (what scientists and zookeepers call structural enrichment) finally did the trick with Mitsinjo’s frogs and immediately resulted in egg-laying.

Having the world’s first captive bred animals of a certain species is exciting, yet not the end oft he effort. Aside from successfully raising froglets to mature individuals once, the next step should always be to breed the captive frogs into the next generation(s). This already worked out with our flagship species, the Golden Mantella where some of our second generation captive animals will soon be released at ponds within their natural distribution range. Among the species we bred for the first time were some elusive microhylids, a conspicuous bright-eye treefrog and a mantellid frog that has no free-swimming tadpole stage but where eggs develop into froglets inside the egg capsules – we call this the low-budget frog as it does not need to be fed during its larval stage.

The golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) population at the breeding facility helps ensure the species survives in the wild.

The golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) population at the breeding facility helps ensure the species survives in the wild.

Looking at the recent efforts raises our hope that we are capable of breeding other endemic species as well, in case of any emergency event that needs immediate rescue or mitigation action. Aside from husbandry experiments that we conduct to steadily improve care and maintenance protocols, the next big thing will be running breeding trials with more stream-breeding frogs as they are an important part of the frog fauna in rainforests here and can be quite demanding in some aspects.

Raising healthy  frogs also requires vitamin and mineral supplements and proper food for tadpoles. Two companies thankfully provided free food and minerals for this breeding season (Aquarium Muenster and Keweloh Animal Health).

Earth Day at Mitsinjo

By Emily Schimpfle of Projects Abroad

This past week Projects Abroad and Association Mitsinjo teamed together to celebrate the 46th Anniversary of Earth Day.  We organized 6 different activities for one class of 74 children at the local primary school.  This included tree climbing, crafting, environmental education, sports, games, and a movie.  We also had a big meal with the children at the end of the long day.

So, with 6 volunteers, 5 teachers, and an assortment of other staff we started the day at the school in a parade with the children to Mitsinjo.  Once we arrived at the office and forest reserve, the kids were divided into 6 groups and the festivities began.  While the day didn’t go exactly as planned, we could tell the kids had a blast. It was their first field trip like this ever.  Everyone was able to make a musical instrument with used plastic bottles or bottle caps.  The kids flew down on a small zip line made especially for them with Mitsinjo partners Gasy Climb.  They learned about the importance of picking up trash and drinking clean water.  They were also able to let out some energy through sports and games at the national park.

At the end of the activities while we waited for food the children drew Earth Day related pictures.  To say we were all amazed at how talented they are at drawing is an understatement.  Kids drew things from flowers to lemurs to people.  Once the food was ready to be served everyone created a line waiting for the rice, beans and zebu.  We had bought 24 Kilos of rice thinking it may not be enough but in the end everyone had two servings.  After a full meal and some dancing the day came to an end with a walk back to the school.  While it was an exhausting day for everyone, it is one we will always remember.  

What do the tadpoles of little brown frogs eat?

We’re very pleased to be able to share some results from our amphibian captive breeding program with you this month. The full article can be found here.

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A juvenile Mantidactylus betsileanus frog from the study.

Published in the journal Alytes, our members worked together to investigate what is the best diet for the tadpoles of the Madagascar Betsileo Frog Mantidactylus betsileanus. We found a locally available shrimp and powdered spirulina aglae to work better for rearing the tadpoles than mustard greens.

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A tadpole in the study just about ready to complete metamorphosis.

Although the frog is not highly threatened, the information gained will help us develop future ex situ conservation programmes for species at risk that we have yet to learn how to keep in captivity. Perhaps just as importantly, the study helped our team of five amphibian technicians develop scientific expertise, and being able to answer biological questions using the scientific method allows us to make informed management decisions, not just about frogs but about the environment as a whole.

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Terrariums at the breeding facility that house the frogs.