Biology Department Expedition to Madagascar
18 months of planning finally came to fruition on 29th June when a party of 25 AS and A level Biology students together with Peter Bright (Head of Biology at the College) and Pat Barlow flew out of Heathrow Airport on route to Madagascar for a 2 week expedition organised by Operation Wallacea.
Sixteen hours of flying, with a stopover at Nairobi, saw us finally arrive in Madagascar, where after a brief break for some lunch the party set off in 2 minibuses for a long, twelve hour overnight drive to the starting point for the expedition in the north-west of the country. Our base for the first part of the first week was to be Mariarano village deep in a unique area of dry forest and its associated wetlands. Here we lived and worked with research scientists from both the UK and Madagascar who were carrying out vital research into the biodiversity of plant and animal species in this unique habitat. Each day the students (and staff) were able to go out on with the scientists allowing them to gain first-hand knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity in the area. Particularly popular were the night walks for nocturnal lemurs, reptiles and amphibians. During these treks we all hoped to see 2 particular species which are unique to Madagascar, lemurs and chamaeleons and invariably we were never disappointed. After 3 days we then moved on foot to Matsedroy, a satellite camp two hours away in the same forest, where we continued to work with the scientists based there collecting further biodiversity data. It was at this point that we began to appreciate the role of Zebu cattle as draught animals – our gear was transported between camps in the forest using carts pulled by the Zebu.
Throughout our week in the dry forest the hospitality shown to us by both the local Malagasy people in the village and the Operation Wallacea staff could not be faulted. At all times we were truly made to feel welcome.
At the end of the first week, we left the forest to meet up with minibuses for yet another long, overnight drive to the Northern end of country where we crossed by ferry to the island of Nosy Be where we were to be based for our second week at a local dive training centre. During this time the students undertook an intensive dive training programme which allowed eighteen of them to achieve their PADI Open Water dive qualification. For many students this was the part of the expedition they were looking forward to most – they certainly were not disappointed.
All too quickly the expedition came to an end and everyone began looking forward to sleeping once again in a bed, to having hot baths/showers and never having to eat rice again! Throughout the expedition the students were faced with a range of personal challenges which were all met without exception. A deeper understanding was gained about the biodiversity in the dry forest and its wetlands. Understanding was gained about the research techniques being used by the scientists. Foreign language skills were developed by those able to speak some French. Finally everyone left Madagascar with a better understanding of life in a country considered to be one of the poorest in the world.
Head of Biology