Masoala Conservation

To support Masoala National Park in Madagascar both in situ and ex situ


Since 1896 when Madagascar became a French colony, the Malagasy forests have been rapidly depleting. Logging has occurred for shifting cultivation, grazing, fuel wood gathering and other purposes. The forest degradation problem became even more serious when the state decided to open up the island's forests to concessionary practices in 1921. Due to improved medical care as from 1949, population growth became another factor in forest degradation. During the next 40 years the population increased rapidly from 4.2 million to 9.2 million. This put a significant strain on the natural resources and estimates show that 4 million hectares of forests were cleared during this 40 year period.

With a view of protecting one of the largest patches of remaining forest, the Masoala National Park was formally created in 1997 after several years of research, planning and development work. With 2,300 km², the park is the largest in Madagascar and is a ‘jewel in the crown' of the Malagasy Protected Areas. It encompasses a diversity of important and threatened ecosystems such as coral reefs, littoral forests and vast tropical rainforest extending from sea level to over 1300 m. Masoala is home to an impressive number of endemic and rare species including the Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela), Red Owl (Tyto soumagnei), Red Ruffed Lemurs (Varecia rubra) and thousends of plant species. Noteworthy there are more than 70 species of frogs, which belong to 6 different families and 15 genera: Hyperoliidae (Heterixalus), Ranidae (Aglyptodactylus, Ptychadena), Rhacophoridae (Boophis), Mantellidae (Mantella, Mantidactylus), and Microhylidae (Anodonthyla, Cophyla, Dyscophus, Platypelis, Plethodontohyla, Rhombophryne, Scaphiophryne, Stumpffia).

Indeed, scientists suggest that the Antongil Bay watershed of which Masoala NP forms a large part contains half of Madagascar's biodiversity - representing 1% of the world's biodiversity!


A unique partnership between a European zoo, Zurich Zoo , an international conservation organization, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Malagasy Parks Service (ANGAP) has been established to ensure the conservation of a multitude of species and the best possible management of a world class biodiversity hotspot. Each partner also gains much from the Alliance; the zoo extends its conservation impact beyond the zoo gates to a region of highest priority for conservation by offering critical financial support and providing a ‘window' to show conservation and promote ecotourism. The on the ground partners, ANGAP and WCS benefit from the direct and indirect support of the zoo in addition to the important exchanges of ideas and technical expertise. Our experience at Masoala has illustrated that the relationship between the zoo and protected area is at it's most effective and valuable when it is seen as a true partnership, not simply as a contractual arrangement between donor and grantee. In this way, the Masoala Partnership is a useful and creative model both for the development of future zoo exhibits and for the long term financing of protected areas in developing countries.

In June 2003, the new Masoala Hall at Zurich Zoo opened its doors to the public, almost exactly ten years after the development of the exhibit began in earnest in 1993. The initial work involved establishing a relationship between the Swiss and Malagasy authorities and finalizing a feasibility study for the construction of the exhibit in Zurich. In the following years, detailed plans were put together and closer relationships were built between Zoo Zurich and on-the-ground partners, the result of which were two formal agreements that were signed in 1996 between Zoo Zürich, the Malagasy Ministry of Water and Forests, and CARE International. CARE International was, at the time, the organisation responsible for the management of Masoala National Park through the Masoala Integrated Conservation and Development Project.

During the years leading up to the opening of the Masoala Hall at Zurich Zoo, several key activities were instigated. It was through the commitment to these activities, over the long term, that a strong relationship between partners has been forged. In addition, the exchange between the zoo and the field conservation has resulted in a zoo exhibit that reflects faithfully the broad reality of the national park in its ecological, cultural and historical context, and an on-going partnership for in situ wildlife conservation. Thanks in part to this higher visibility; Masoala will soon be proposed as a new World Heritage Site for Madagascar.

Activities instigated both before and after the opening of the Zurich Zoo exhibit by the partnership have led to significant benefits to both the Zoo and to conservation, these include:


  • Development of a program of ’micro-development’ projects in communities around Masoala National Park. This program represented an investment from Zoo Zurich of $10,000 per year for 10 years. A collaboration between the local authorities and the Ministry of Water and Forests ensured that grants were given out to projects initiated and promoted by the communities themselves.
  • Collaboration with the Department of Water and Forests to establish and manage two plant nurseries adjacent to the park. The aim was to supply trees to local communities and for forest restoration projects as well as supplying plants to the development of the Masoala exhibit at Zurich.
  • Institutional support for the national seed-bank (Silo National des Graines Forestières or SNGF) as part of a contract to manage seed and plant exports from Madagascar to Switzerland. The annual value of this support will vary but is likely to stabilize at the level of approximately $25,000.
  • Implemention of a study on the priorities for development actions around Masoala NP. This was conducted by Swiss researchers in 2002-03 and the results are being used to design development programs around Masoala.
  •  Increased Swiss institutional support for and involvement in conservation and development issues in Masoala region. These include on-the-ground projects following up on the study of development needs in Masoala peripheral zone conducted in 2002-03, and diplomatic representation by the Swiss Embassy and Chargé d’Affaires in Madagascar.
  • Support for scientific research in and around Masoala NP. Research projects facilitated by Zoo Zurich include plant inventories and a study on the reproductive ecology of chameleons. This research can help not only the management of the National Park but also provides data for ensuring successful captive breeding of chameleons and propagation of plants.
  • Support of activities to promote Masoala NP as an ecotourism destination. This work has led to Masoala being one of the most well known parks in Madagascar with a growing number of international visitors. The production of a high quality book on Masoala accompanied the opening of the Zoo Zurich exhibit and it sale internationally and within Madagascar has raised the profile of Masoala National Park. The increase in tourism to the park has direct benefits as visitors to Masoala and other protected areas in Madagascar make direct contributions to park management through the payment of entry fees. Already in 2003, the number of Swiss visitors to Masoala had more than doubled compared to the previous comparable year. The 242 visitors - Swiss tourists numbered 2nd after Madagascar people - in 2004 were worth nearly $210,000. There is considerable potential for these numbers to rise in future.
  • The educational value of the Zürich exhibit not only in terms of conservation but also as a window on another culture has been huge. Zoo Zurich as become “a living outpost of Madagascar in the heart of Europe”. This “gift” of international awareness raising cannot be underestimates as Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, looks for help and support from other countries to conserve it’s biodiversity and improve the lives of its people.


Once the Masoala exhibit opened at Zoo Zurich there continued to be an exchange of ideas and information and ongoing joint activities representing "non-financial" support but also a mechanism for "financial support" was developed. Zoo Zürich has made a commitment to contribute a minimum $100,000 per year to the national park, which represents 25-33% percent of annual operating costs of the park. Funds are generated through the following three mechanisms:


  • Voluntary cash contributions made by zoo visitors are currently the main source of direct support for park management and associated activities at Masoala.
  • An association called the Friends of Masoala, or Freunde Masoalas, was created by Zoo Zürich in 2004 with the express purpose of creating the $7-8 million trust fund that is needed to endow Masoala NP in perpetuity.
  •  The sale of Malagasy handicrafts at the Masoala gift shop. In the year following the opening of the exhibit, these amounted to approximately $100,000. These sales contribute both Zoo Zurich's annual financial commitment to the Park but also provides revenues back to the producers of handicrafts in the communities around Masoala NP.


WAZA Conservation Project 05012 is operated by the Madagascar National Park Service (ANGAP) and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and is supported by the  Zurich Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Friends of Masoala, as well as by other sponsors.


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