With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
Women play a vital role in conservation, not only for the knowledge, ideas and solutions they can offer, but also because of the different parts they play in society and the effect this has on the way they use natural resources.
For this reason, part of Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) work aims to further the development of female conservation leaders, such as Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka – Director at Madagasikara Voakajy – FFI’s partner in Madagascar.
Julie admires roosting bats (Hipposideros commersoni) in the forest of Tampolo
Julie first became involved with FFI in 2003 when she joined a team of scientists supported by the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) for her undergraduate research project studying bat ecology and behaviour in Madagascar’s Bemaraha National Park.
Here, she shares some of her experiences, and talks about how she got to where she is today:
I originally wanted to be a farmer, but at university I saw that ecological studies would offer me field time. I love travelling, and being surrounded by nature inspires me. I always feel happier and healthier when I’m in the field.
Our work at Madagasikara Voakajy looks at the interactions between people and their natural environment. Key to this is providing the solid scientific information needed for effective conservation, so I really love it when our research findings lead directly into conservation actions that improve the standard of life in the villages where we work.
There are so many to choose from! Perhaps the time I came face-to-face with an aye aye (a strange looking lemur that is thought to bring bad luck) while radio-tracking bats late at night in the forest.
We were heading back to camp when, all of a sudden, we heard a really strange noise. The guide told us that it might be an aye aye, so we waited and then saw its big eyes! I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t brought me any bad luck so far, and I’d love to see one again in the wild!
During a research trip to a remote village in southern Madagascar, my team and I had gone without a bath for several days. It was very dry, and we needed all our water for drinking and cooking. On the third day however, it rained.
Manjoazy waits for more rain to come
One of the team members – Manjoazy – was so excited that he took out his soap and started washing, but as soon as he had finished soaping his body, the rain stopped! Thankfully, he managed to get the soap off by collecting water from anywhere possible (off the tent, off the car…).
As well as supporting the team that I conducted my undergraduate research with, the CLP also gave me alumni travel grants to attend the Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge (SCCS) in 2005, and a Society for Conservation Biology meeting in South Africa in 2007.
By that time, I was a research assistant at Madagasikara Voakajy, but the SCCS trip was my first time out of Madagascar, and my first time speaking to an international audience – I was really nervous!
Thankfully, once I got used to speaking English, I was fine and I found it surprisingly easy to make new friends – even though we came from different countries and cultures.
The biggest challenge has definitely been taking over the directorship of Madagasikara Voakajy – I have always enjoyed working in the field, but now I spend most of my days stuck behind a desk!
My most rewarding moment was getting my team to sing and dance after working throughout the night during a 40 day field trip in 2006. We had been working so hard and hadn’t had much sleep, but we still had enough spirit to sing a Malagasy song called ‘Tsikitsiky lava’, meaning ‘Smile, smile, always smile’.
Doing research is the easy part of conservation; the most challenging and exciting thing is linking findings with the conservation actions, and this will always include people. Do not stop until you get to that point.
Main photo credit: Evan Bowen-Jones.