Work on vital field station to help save lemurs is underway

Work is underway on a new field station in Madagascar involving Bristol Zoological Society that will help to save lemurs from extinction.

The Ankarafa field station in the north-western Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park will provide a research base for conservationists and scientists who are working to help lemurs of which more than 90 per cent are threatened with extinction.

It has been designed by conservation scientists from Bristol Zoological Society, Bath-based landscape architects Grant Associates, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and BuroHappold Engineering.

A team including Dr Sam Cotton, a conservation scientist at Bristol Zoo Gardens, has just returned from a two week visit to the site in Madagascar.

Dr Cotton together with Michael Lewis from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Lara Judeh and Neil Harvey from BuroHappold used a brick-making machine to Madagascar for the first time.

Until now bricks in rural Madagscar have tended to be made of mud and baked in charcoal kilns fuelled from cut down trees.

But this machine means bricks can be made from highly compressed soil, a small amount of cement and water without the need to fell any trees. The bricks interlock and need relatively little mortar to create strong walls.

Dr Cotton said: “This machine makes bricks with much less damage to the environment. Once they have cured in the sun for a month they are very durable and they should last a very long time.”

It will take around 11,000 bricks to build the field station which will include a laboratory, accommodation for researchers, a manager’s office, dining and living areas and a kitchen.

The brick making machine had to be transported for 16 hours across land by a 4x4, then on a boat for a six hour journey and was finally transferred to a wheeled cart and at times carried by six men through the forest.

During their time at the site they checked plans which had been drawn up in Bath and took down some temporary camping shelters and relocated two trees to make way for the building’s foundations.

Dr Cotton said: “Over the next few months local builders will dig the foundations, lay the footings and make a large supply of bricks . After that the walls can start to go up. They plan to get the first building done by the end of the year.”

He said people were really excited by the new field station which will replace the current basic buildings put up by Dr Christoph Schwitzer, chief zoological officer at Bristol Zoological Society, when he was there researching lemurs 15 years ago.

Dr Cotton said of his visit to Madagascar: “I think we all felt a real sense of satisfaction and achievement.”

“It’s a very special place, you see the deforestation and massive erosion, It’s an arresting sight. It’s definitely a challenge but it’s not a lost cause. We have to try.”

Dr Cotton also helped set up two plant nurseries which will produce young saplings to help re-forest areas where trees have been felled.

The field station has already won the public support of broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

He said:  “This is a visionary project that can help to conserve the lemurs and their forest habitat as well as helping the Malagasy people.”

A £111,000 appeal has been set up to raise money to build the field station. People can make donations at www.bristolzoo.org.uk/ankarafa

Neil Harvey, associate director at BuroHappold said: “The passion and enthusiasm of everyone involved in this project, both in Madagascar and in the UK has been truly infectious.

“The remoteness of the site brings with it significant challenges. Every kilo of material and every tool makes a difference, and so have to be carefully considered.”

Michael Lewis from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios said: “Through intelligent passive design and innovative applications of traditional materials, the Ankarafa field station has the potential to revolutionise future building construction throughout rural Madagascar.”

Andrew Grant, director of Grant Associates, said: “It is brilliant to see this project becoming a reality and we have every confidence it can make a big difference to the conservation of this precious natural landscape and its rare biodiversity whilst helping the local community.”

In the long term the aim is for this centre to become internationally renowned for developing solutions to conservation problems and become a destination for Malagasy and international scientists.

The centre will also provide work for local people as guides, managers and field researchers.

Bristol Zoological Society is one of 30 European zoos involved in the Association Europeenne pour l’Etude et la Conservation des Lemuriens (AEECL) which aims to safeguard the future of Madagascar’s lemur population.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

To donate towards the project, visit here

Find out more about the project here.

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