The Anja Community Reserve
We drive north along the RN7, the main road through the southern half of the island. Hours go by and we see nothing but rice fields and grasslands where forests once stood. We are made painfully aware of this as we drive through Zombitse National Park, which straddles the road. When we enter this protected area, a thick forest surrounds the highway. The forest is surrounded on all sides by rice fields.
The few patches of green left have smoke billowing out, as the forest is being burned to make charcoal to cooking purposes. It’s sold in large sacks on the side of the road. Our driver stops to purchase three sacks filled to the brim with dark burnt wood. "It's cheaper here than at home," he explains as he climbs onto the roof of the car and ties them down alongside of our packs.
Although things seem dire, there are rays of hope shining through reminding us of the resilience of nature.
This is a story about that resilience.
We arrive at the forest which is nestled into the rocks. Flowers, growing up from the cracks bloom high above the ground. Lizards bask and lemurs play. This is the Anja Community Reserve.
About 20 years ago the spring that provided water to this region began to run dry. Most of this forest, at that time, had been destroyed. Fewer than 40 lemurs remained. The community realized that they needed to act quickly if the forest was to survive, so they came together and began to replant.
It is now a thriving secondary forest that is home to over 350 ringtail lemurs: the largest congregation on the island. The local community is actively involved in caring for and protecting the forest. With proper management of protected areas, both the communities and ecosystems are supported.
We hike up through the rocks, where the lemurs sleep at night. We watch a large male Oustalets's chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) eat insects and baby lemurs chase each other in the low branches. A grey speckled day gecko (Phelsuma modesta) moves quickly along the trunks of trees, just above our reach. Along the forest floor in areas of dense leaf litter, tiny chameleons covered with spines that roam the forest floor hunting for insects. We swat at mosquitos and quickly learn which areas we missed with bug spray.
This forest is one of the most inspiring places I have ever been. It is a testament to the resilience of nature.
Given the opportunity, nature can recover and regrow. Perhaps biodiversity won't be as high as before, as I would imagine there are creatures that won't survive these large scale changes to their environment, but many plants and animals can and will come back. It's not too late for us to keep replanting and protecting all the forests that are left. They are the lungs of our planet and we need them.