Home Institution

Brown University

Publication Date

Spring 2005

Program Name

Madagascar: Ecology and Conservation


Andohahela National Park : Legends and Laws

The legendary forests of Andohahela National Park (N.P.) have long been respected as a source of inspiration and life for the Anosy region in the extreme southeast of Madagascar. Hundreds of years ago, according to various oral traditions, Prince Mana offered himself as a sacrifice in order to quench the drought that brought war and famine to his people, the Tahela (a clan of the Anosy tribe). Zanahary, the Malagasy creator, responded by unleashing the rains and springs in the mountains, which made the land fertile again, and stopped the wars. In gratitude, the King of the Tahelas named the rivers that flowed from the newly created springs after his son: Manantavona, Mananara, Mandrare, Manambolo, and Manampanihy. (ANGAP 1997, in Fenn 2003.)

This legend emphasizes the importance of the watershed that feeds these rivers, thereby supporting the region’s economic and biological productivity (O’Connor, 1981). Andohahela N.P.’s geography and geology provide the conditions for its unique mélange of three distinct, species-rich forest ecosystems: the rainforest to the east, the dry spiny forest to the west, and the transitional forest between them. The diversity of the region can be explained by its strategic location straddled over the Anosyennes Chain, a mountain range that blocks moisture-rich trade winds from the Indian Ocean, to the southeast. The various habitats created by these factors allow for a high level of faunal diversity, even compared to other regions nationwide (Fenn, 2003). The cultural diversity is also reflected in that two distinct ethnic groups share this space: the Antanosy or Tanosy (People of the Island), and the Antandroy or Tandroy (People of the Spines).

The History of Andohahela as a Protected Area:

It was to protect colonial biodiversity resources that Andohahela was originally established as a strict nature reserve (SNR or R.N.I. - Réserve Naturelle Intégrale) by the French in 1939. It grew from a 30 000 ha parcel to three parcels totalling 76 020 ha, but the SNR status remained until 1997 (when National Park status was conferred). The S.N.R. is the most severe and restrictive category in terms of access to and exploitation of the reserve’s interior. During Madagascar’s period of colonization (1896-1960), armed forest guards enforced reserve boundaries. This and other factors (low population density, fertile rice fields in the exterior) protected the reserve from much human impact originally but this is no longer the case.

The current conservation strategy of Andohahela N.P. attempts to integrate the needs of local communities through the Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP). The ICDP concept was inaugurated as part of the 1980 World Conservation Strategy, which emphasized local economic development alongside the management of protected areas (Marcus, 2001). In 1988 it was incorporated into Madagascar’s National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), which outlines a gradual transfer of protected-area management and ownership from international organizations and donors to Malagasy state and local counterparts over the course of 15 years. (Marcus, 2001). Once the transfer process is complete, most if not all of the burden of financing the park will fall on park revenues. Therefore, there is a major effort to encourage tourism, especially ecotourism, in order to increase profits from entry fees. Ecotourism has been defined by ANGAP as “tourisme engagée et responsible, liée à l’idée de conservation. » (Baorondro, 11 fev 2005). In 1999, Andohahela NP won the Silver Otter Award for “Best Overseas Tourism Project” from the British Guild of Travel Writers.

Conservation and Development: the Context

Not only at Andohahela NP, but all over the country, protected areas are trying to attract visitors. Moreover, in 2003, President Marc Ravalomanana promised the international community that Madagascar would add 4.3 million ha of protected areas to the 1.7 million ha in existence. If successfully achieved by the target year of 2008, it will increase the National Protected Area System from 3% to 10% of the country’s surface area, as part of the third and terminal phase of the NEAP. In addition to encouraging ecotourism, ANGAP and partners are devising strategies similar to the ICDP to ensure a smooth transition for the communities living in areas slated to join the protected areas network.(Ramarokoto, 2003.)

The Andohahela ICDP began in 1990, and as of 1996 it was still under the management of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and received 75% of its funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The ICDP sought to encourage environmental conservation ethics and appropriate behaviors in local communities. Despite ICDP activities to increase environmental awareness and literacy, to confer more and more management responsibilities to locals, and to ensure their livelihood and economic development, the same environmental pressures that threatened the park in 1981 were still present in 199¬6, due to the subsistence activities of the locals (Simsik, 1996). That is to say that slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy), cattle-grazing, and wood-product exploitation continued.

In the same year an SIT Independent Study Project (ISP) studied traditional honey harvesting techniques, wild honey collection, and the modified niche technique proposed by WWF as an alternative to the potentially destructive traditional techniques practiced in the villages surrounding the then-S.N.R. Andohahela. While the distinctions between each technique were unclear from the report, wild honey collection risks the introduction of forest fires through the use of a “burning cloth” (Jaeger, 1996). The modified niche apiculture technique and other sustainable livelihood alternatives have met with varying degrees of success.

A study conducted in 2001 found that locals at Andohahela NP, Ranomafana NP, and Masoala NP perceived the parks and related conservation efforts as a foreign concept. Especially those who could see few direct benefits from the creation of the park had problems internalising the conservation messages promoted by the ICDPs conducted there (Marcus, 2001). Since then, efforts have been made to take indigenous culture and oral traditions into account in “sensibilisation” campaigns (Fenn, 2003). “Sensibilisation” refers to the process of educating local communities in environmental awareness for the purpose of conservation and management of resources.

Thus, in spite of consensus on all levels (international, state, local) that Madagascar’s biodiversity is a valuable inheritance, there remains a lack of harmony on conceptualising the appropriate management of this heritage for the future. The source of this discrepancy appears to derive from the foreign nature of conservation strategies, and above all, foreign communication strategies for “sensibilizing” and thereby empowering local communities.

The Flows of Knowledge through the Park System:

One key aspect in the empowerment process is the exchange of information and knowledge. In fact one of the main premises of “sensibilisation” efforts is to empower local populations to overcome poverty in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Some types of knowledge are inaccessible to villages with low literacy rates, a weak transportation and communication infrastructure, and limited access to formal education. On the other hand, local communities are rich in other types of knowledge, that is, environmental and cultural knowledge. Thus, there are different types of knowledge, concentrated in certain key actors, within a knowledge-exchange network. The actors in this network, are - the local community (ie: villagers who used to exploit the park, and still do) - ANGAP and other NGOs (and the guides, agents, etc. representing them) - Visitors to the Park (vazaha; students) - Researchers - The general public Of these actors, it would seem that there are certain gate-keepers, who have more power to direct the flow of knowledge. For the purposes of this study, I have identified ANGAP and the local community as two gate-keepers.

Researchers are certainly the gate-keepers of a highly specialised form of academic, or formal environmental knowledge, but since they come infrequently to the park, I was unable to include them in the study.

Furthermore, I identified park guides and agents in particular, as a major information conduit between ANGAP and the community. I wanted to learn more about how they receive and convey environmental knowledge, how they conceive the environment of the park, and how they conceive their role in relation to the other key actors in the knowledge-exchange network.

ANGAP agents live and work based out of four villages which serve as park entrances. Tsimelahy, located 56km outside of Fort Dauphin, is the entrance to the transitional forest section of the park, and is associated with a 2-hour circuit, graded “easy”. Mangatsiaka is 62 km away from Fort Dauphin and serves as one of the entrances to the dry forest. Its associated circuit is also “easy” and takes 3 hours to complete. The other entrance to the dry forest is at Ihazofotsy village, 110 km from Fort Dauphin, and offers three circuits with various durations and levels of difficulty. Finally, Malio village serves as the entrance to the rainforest, 36 km from Fort Dauphin. The hike is graded “athletic” and takes 4-5 hours. (ANGAP office bulletin board, 12 avril 2005).


Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy



Article Location