Blue Devil of the Week: Supporting Madagascar and its People

Charlie Welch travels to the African country to promote conservation

Two Coquerel’s Sifaka lemurs climb a tree behind Charlie Welch at the Duke Lemur Center.
Two Coquerel’s Sifaka lemurs climb a tree behind Charlie Welch at the Duke Lemur Center.

“What people might not realize is that we do more than just research in Madagascar. It’s a component of what we do, but it’s only one of many different elements. Overseeing conservation work is about convincing local people it’s in their best interest. That means we end up doing everything from supporting family planning to reforestation and agriculture or promoting wood efficient stoves and fish farms. Our objective is to protect the natural forest of the country –  if we can protect the forest, we can protect the lemurs and everything else that lives there.

I usually go two or three times a year and most of what I do is talk to and meet with people. I’m not actually in the forest with lemurs much of the time. Conservation is more than just research. It’s a human characteristic to resist change, which is why we need to offer change that can benefit the Malagasy people, but contribute to forest protection at the same time.

For example, people like fuel-efficient stoves because it means they use 50 percent less wood. They save time collecting wood and the air is cleaner in kitchens. With family planning, women don’t want to have so many kids, so through a collaboration with a women’s reproductive health NGO, we make contraception available to them. Success is about building relationships.

People sometimes ask why I continue to work in conservation when it can be so hard to get tangible results, but as a result of our work, combined with the work of other NGOs, the number of Malagasy conservation professionals, researchers and students has risen rapidly in recent years. That’s rewarding and also very important in terms of positive change coming from within.”

Charlie Welch
Conservation coordinator, Duke Lemur Center
11 years at Duke Lemur Center, 15 years in Madagascar on behalf of the Lemur Center and the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group

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