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Community Service Trip

Carnivores of Madagascar

with Dr. Luke Dollar, Pfeiffer University and Duke University and Dr. Julie Pomerantz, Bryn Mawr College, Class of 1990

August 6-20, 2011

Ankarafantsika, Madagascar, is home to the fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore, and an animal with less than seven percent of its original habitat remaining. Help research the mysterious fossa and the other carnivores of Madagascar and save their habitat. Join other Bryn Mawr alumnae/i on daily hikes into the Madagascar forest, where we will track carnivores to obtain information on their activity, and compare with populations of carnivores in Kirindy Mitea, located in Madagascar, far South of Ankarafantsika. Results of the study will be shared with ecologists, mammalogists, and conservationists, who are working to save the island’s valuable dry forest biodiversity.


With the help of Earthwatch volunteers, the Carnivores of Madagascar project studies the abundance, behavior, and conservation ecology of carnivores in Ankarafantsika, Madagascar. Work in Ankarafantsika focuses on charting long-term population trends and immediate conservation ecology for the fossa. Research activities will include capture and sedation of all carnivores to obtain anatomical and physiological information and possibly radio-tracking carnivores’ movements and activity patterns. The project focuses primarily on the fossa, Madagascar’s largest carnivore, and how it is affected by expanding populations of non-endemic carnivore species in Ankarafantsika, as well as the similarities and differences between populations in Kirindy Mitea. Results of this study will benefit ecologists, mammalogists, and conservationists by providing insights into the composition and status of these parks’ carnivore and prey populations. It will afford the opportunity to expand current and create new data sets for Madagascar’s biodiversity research programs and management plans for conserving the island’s valuable dry forest biodiversity.

Earthwatch volunteers contribute greatly to these research efforts. During your expedition you may participate in some of the following activities: ecological monitoring and biodiversity assessments, domestic animal processing, photo-trapping surveys (Team I), checking traps for endemic carnivores (Team II), ground-truthing for satellite image analysis of habitats, trail marking and mapping, and checking trails/roads for wildlife or radio signals. You may also visit local communities for environmental education and outreach, assist with school environmental education classes, help local villagers with sustainable development initiatives, or help other researchers with their associated studies.

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Ampijoroa Research Station, Ankarafantsika
Ampijoroa, where the team will be based, is located directly on Route Nationale 4, approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Mahajanga, a two-hour drive away. Mahajanga (interchangeably spelled Mahajunga, Majunga, and Majanga) is a major port city and is serviced by year-round daily flights from Antananarivo (commonly known as Tana, the largest city and capital of Madagascar).

Ampijoroa Research Station serves the 135,000-hectare (333,592-acre) Ankarafantsika Protected Areas Complex, one of the last and largest tracts of dry deciduous forest in Madagascar. The area has more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) of well-marked trails on several different circuits that you can explore with one of the station guides during your recreational time. The flora and fauna of Ankarafantsika are quite rich. Flora includes tall baobob trees, stands of precious woods such as palisandre, and many species of terrestrial and epiphytic orchids. Ankarafantsika boasts seven lemur species, including the beautiful, acrobatic Coquerel’s sifaka and the rare mongoose lemur, which can’t be found in any other protected area. Among the nocturnal lemur species at Ankarafantsika are the woolly, the sportive, and the mouse lemur. All of these lemur species are included in the diet of Madagascar’s largest predator and the main study subject for this project: the fossa. The diet of the fossa may also be comprised of many of the more than 100 bird species found in Ankarafantsika, as well as a number of reptile and amphibian species, including the leaf-tailed gecko.

Volunteers will need to be especially wary of large Nile crocodiles when near the lakes of Ampijoroa. Also found in these lakes are three species of freshwater tortoise, including the endangered rere.

Cultural, Social, and Political Environment
In Ankarafantsika, volunteers will be guests living adjacent to a traditional Malagasy village. Malagasy are peaceful, non-confrontational people. Conditions of life in the village may be primitive by American or European standards, but the Malagasy are a proud people. Pity is neither warranted nor deserved. When visiting homes in villages, volunteers are expected to accept any offerings of gifts or hospitality gracefully, as they have been offered with equal grace and pride. You will likely be completely unaware if you offend any local friends, so please be on your best “guest” behavior in dealing with people in and around the field sites. Intolerance of cultural or religious differences is not acceptable and will be promptly addressed. Finally, the local populace works extraordinarily hard to help this project succeed. A heartfelt “Thank you” or “Misaotra betsaka tompoko” is the best way of expressing gratitude for Malagasy hospitality.

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Team Itinerary

Below is a tentative itinerary for the expedition.

Day 1: Rendezvous in Mahajanga. Welcome beverage and introductions at a local restaurant. Transport via chartered vehicle to research site (120 kilometers/75 miles) south of Mahajanga). Tent site selection/dormitory assignment, unpacking, etc. First meal in the field and continued introductions. First formal lecture held in the evening.

Day 2: Breakfast and morning team-building/familiarization session (continued from the previous evening). Discussion of project goals and how they relate to volunteer expectations. Tour of the forest, particularly the trap grids. Traps will have already been placed in pre-bait mode and will now be unlocked to begin active trapping in the evening. Dinner in camp with discussions of itinerary, review of the next few days’ activities, and delegation of next day’s tasks. Focused discussion of carnivore capture and processing protocols led by Dr. Dollar.

Days 3: Volunteers and staff members will separate into small groups for the day’s activities. Active trapping checks will be initiated with the morning trap system check. Dinner will be followed by a standard debriefing and when time allows, a group building activity, language lessons, and/or discussions of research protocols. Active trapping will be in effect for the next 10 days, from Days 3-12, starting with the trap line check conducted this afternoon.

Day 4: Active trapping now in effect. Possibly a lesson on radio-telemetry techniques, followed by a “hide and seek with the radio-collar” game (note that active radio-tracking will not likely be in effect). Losing group has to buy drinks for the rest of the team!

Day 5-12: Fieldwork, including active trapping. See the Daily Schedule and Tasks section.

Day 12 During the afternoon, final preparations for departure on Day 13 will be made. Special dinner prepared by the Ambodimanga women’s group followed by a presentation of Dances Folklorique and an informal celebration

Day 13 Finish packing followed by morning transport via chartered vehicle to Mahajanga. Volunteers will be delivered to La Piscine Hotel or to the airport in Mahajanga to meet the flight to Antananarivo. Volunteers should consult a travel guidebook for information on local attractions.

Recreational Time

There are no group excursions or recreational days planned during the expedition; however, if you need to rest for a day or half-day, you can schedule rest/recreational time as all activities will be designated via volunteer sign-ups. Note that no activity can be neglected, so free time may be somewhat limited on this expedition.

Earthwatch Recreational Time Policy
Earthwatch has a duty of care for our participants from the rendezvous to the end of the expedition. In order to ensure you are as safe during your recreational time as you are during research time, we have put a number of measures in place. Note: Individual projects vary as to if or when there is recreation time.

  • If there is a recreational day during the expedition, the project staff will offer either a planned team activity or a small choice of recreational activities that have been vetted and comply with Earthwatch standards. You will also have the option of remaining at the project accommodations to rest. All participants are strongly encouraged to take part in the group activity, but if you are determined to pursue other options you will be asked to sign a release before doing so, stating that Earthwatch is not responsible for your welfare.
  • If there is a period of free time scheduled into a regular research day, the staff will ask you to sign out of the project (using a means which may vary by project and project location) if planning to leave the group. This will include your destination and estimated time of return. If participants do not show up to the next activity the project staff will then know where to begin a search.
  • In the evenings if you can go out at night, you will again be asked to sign out of the project as above. The project staff will give you 24-hour contact information for them should assistance be needed. The sign-out is informational only and will not be used to enforce a curfew. Please be aware that project staff would not start a search until the following morning or the next scheduled activity unless contacted for help sooner.


Please be aware that schedules can and do fluctuate due to weather, research needs, etc. Your cooperation and understanding are appreciated. Volunteers will assist with monitoring tranquilized animals as they recover from drug effects; times for this may vary with times of capture and species differences. Below is an example schedule for a typical work day.

Note: For team 1, ‘trap’ refers to camera traps only. Team 2 will be engaged in camera and live trapping.

5:30 am Breakfast
6:00 am Trap check and census walk
10:00 am Animal processing/monitoring, lecture or other activity
12:00 pm Lunch
1:00 pm Rest
2:00 pmAnimal processing/monitoring, lecture or other activity
5:00 pm Second daily trap check and census walk
7:00 pm Dinner
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Contribution* . . . . . . . $2,750 (land only)

Through a unique method of funding, 100 percent of your contribution is used to support research and exploration sponsored by Earthwatch Institute. By balancing costs across our program, we are able to assist research that would not be self-supporting.

In the United States, Earthwatch Institute is a non-profit organization described under Section 501-C (3) of the Internal revenue Code. Because of this, contributions in the form of your project cost are 100% tax deductible. Also, volunteers may deduct reasonable out-of-pocket expenses including transportation to and from research sites.

As a result of this, if you or your parents itemize deductions on your tax return, your real cost to participate in the Earthwatch expeditions may be significantly lower.

Print and return registration form - PDF

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Meals and Accommodations


Volunteers will stay at Ampijoroa Research Station in Ankarafantsika, in tents at designated sites, situated in a clearing surrounded by large, shady mango trees less than five kilometers (0.6 miles) from the nearest trap. The sites have sandy bottoms and each is covered with a thatched roof. Tents will be provided, though you may bring your own tent if desired; please keep in mind that Air Madagascar has very strict baggage limits. Single volunteers will receive single tents. Volunteers who join the expedition together can be placed in a larger tent for two. Please keep and leave your tent tidy. The research area also offers pumped running water, a couple of coldwater showers (warm to hot by midday), and drop toilets. Please bring your own sleeping pad and sleeping bag. Local villagers can wash volunteers’ laundry four times per week for a nominal fee. Generator-driven electricity (convertible between 110 and 220 volts) will be available, and volunteers may bring electronics if desired (no high-energy appliances such as hair dryers, please). AC/DC cigarette-plug converters (like those used in cars) are advisable, as are a collection of international plugs (many plug types, including American and French are available). Internet service is not available.

Additionally, new to the campsite are two bungalows constructed by the local village’s women’s cooperative (EZAKA) with this project’s assistance. These bungalows have flush toilets, running water, showers, beds, and a shaded front porch for relaxing at the end of the day. It may be possible for some volunteers to stay in these double-occupancy bungalows by direct onsite arrangement with EZAKA. Campsites are provided as a part of the Carnivores of Madagascar project. Those wishing to “upgrade” to the bungalows may be charged a modest fee, approximately US $25 per night (other major currencies accepted as well).


An onsite cooking staff will prepare meals for the team. Most meals will include rice, Madagascar’s main staple, as well as beans. Meat dishes will typically be available as well, served separate from vegetarian fare. Madagascar produces some of the finest dark, milk, and white chocolate in the world; these expensive treats are also available, but in limited amounts. You should bring your own snack foods (granola bars, candy, etc.) from home. There are a couple of small stores nearby with a limited number and variety of items for purchase (beer, soda, etc.), as well as a cooler with multiple soft drinks (Coke, Sprite, Fanta) and beer onsite. Volunteers will need to pay for their own soft drinks and beer, which will cost is approximately FMG7500 (approximately US$1) per liter-sized bottle.

Water will always be available, but it’s a good idea to bring along your own flavored drink mixes (e.g. tea, Kool- Aid, Gatorade, Crystal Light, etc.) to provide some variety. Below are examples of the foods and beverages you might expect in the field. Please bear in mind that variety depends on availability, and it is very important that volunteers be flexible.

Breakfast Rice, breakfast meats, fried potatoes, omelets

Lunch/Dinner Rice, beans, vegetables, meat (pork chops, chicken, beef, etc.), fish, and dessert (usually fruits such as pineapples, mangos, or bananas)

Snacks Available for purchase in Ankarafantsika

Beverages Clean filtered water (bring powdered drink mix for variety), tea and coffee with cream and sugar; beer and soda may be available for purchase at Ankarafantsika

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In addition to lectures on research methods (such as trapping and data collection techniques), you may receive instruction via both formal lectures and informal discussion from several different staff members and guests. Possible discussion topics may include:

  • General conservation biology and trends
  • Carnivore conservation biology in and beyond Madagascar
  • Primate conservation biology in and beyond Madagascar
  • Ecological monitoring techniques, including remote sensing/satellite imagery
  • Carnivore and lemur behavior
  • The relevance of field studies for applications on captive populations
  • Lemur capture, handling, and processing techniques
  • Carnivore capture, handling, and processing techniques
  • Primate evolution with specific concentration on lemur evolution
  • Carnivore evolution with specific concentration on the Malagasy carnivore enigma
  • The use of genetics in ecology and evolutionary biology
  • Malagasy language lessons
  • Local conservation and development activities
  • Malagasy history and culture

You are also encouraged to share your own special experiences and expertise with the rest of the group in informal discussion sessions. The Earthwatch Scientist(s) will give the team a more detailed onsite project briefing when you arrive.


As an Earthwatch volunteer, you may assist the research staff with checking traps for captured animals, surveying the forest for current prey populations, and collecting radio-telemetry data (when active), among other activities. Research activities and specific field tasks are chosen by the project staff based on the needs of the research at the time. Individual volunteers or small groups will be assigned on a rotating basis to check traps on different transects. During the active trapping phase of the project the traps are checked twice daily for 10 consecutive days by a group of volunteers and a staff member. Earthwatch volunteers may assist with handling, measuring, marking, collaring, and releasing study animals, although research staff will have the primary responsibilities for these tasks. If you wish to handle fossa, you must be vaccinated against rabies (see the Health Information section).

Volunteers may also have the option to explore more remote parts of Ankarafantsika National Park with a staff guide to conduct ecological and Global Information System (GIS) surveys in the less well-studied and unsurveyed forests beyond the Ampijoroa Station area. These extended-range ecological surveys are similar to those that members of the trap teams conduct when censusing prey species encountered during the regular trap checks. Note that the project may use live chickens in the traps. Volunteers are also responsible for the daily feeding of the chickens. Finally, the project also seeks to quantify roadbed mortality along the 17km stretch of national highway that bisects Ankarafantsika. Two volunteers and a staff member will walk and clear the RN4 daily, collecting data on animals struck by passing vehicles. This important work is the driving force behind the installation of speed bumps in Ankarafantsika, which has resulted in the reduction of the number of fatalities of Ankarafantsika’s wildlife.

Trained staff members will be in charge of tranquilizing the study animals. Volunteers who are not medically prequalified will not be responsible for darting or collecting blood from study animals, etc. for the sake of animal safety, and will not receive training in anesthesia. You are, however, strongly encouraged to observe closely during these activities.

The staff is currently comprised of native-level speakers in Malagasy, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French. This project encourages team spirit. Mealtimes provide opportunities for team interaction and development. The division into groups for research tasks and optional morning and afternoon activities allow interpersonal development among continuously changing groups. Special seminars and lessons may be given by research staff, Malagasy graduate assistants, and invited guests to large groups after meals and to smaller groups during non-trapping activity times. Teams will also sometimes be invited to participate in village activities or ceremonies. Volunteer participation in these activities is an extraordinary privilege but will be on a voluntary basis. In addition, almost every aspect of this project requires teamwork on some level. For quiet time, however, volunteers can retreat to the refectory or tents or take a leisurely stroll through the park’s well-maintained trails. If you plan to hike in the park, you must hike with a park tour guide. You may hike around the research site with

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Earthwatch Scientists

Dr. Luke Dollar

completed his Ph.D. in Ecology at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 2006. He is a research associate with the Duke University Primate Center and Founder of the Carnivore Conservation and Research Trust. He currently advises undergraduate and graduate students as Assistant Professor of Biology at Pfeiffer University and Adjunct Professor of Ecology at Duke University, both in North Carolina. His research specialties include carnivore ecology, specifically the fossa in Malagasy rainforests. His responsibilities on this Earthwatch project include field logistics, site pre-selection, animal tranquilization and staff assignment, and he is also the site medic as a certified Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician. Luke has worked on the fossa and its conservation for more than a decade. As director of this project, he has managed teams from five continents in more than a dozen field sites. In addition to being an avid outdoorsman, he is a compassionate conservationist, focusing equally on the human and biodiversity components of environmental management.

Dr. Julie Pomerantz

is a Bryn Mawr alumna, class of 1990. She is a field veterinarian and epidemiological researcher and will specifically focus on the diseases of the Madagascar fauna during this project. Her research specialties include veterinary medicine, epidemiology, field laboratory techniques, anesthetization and surgery. During the expeditions, she will be responsible for the collection of parasite samples and serological surveys to determine the incidence of several infectious diseases among the domestic and endemic carnivore populations. Dr. Pomerantz, a 1999 Carnivores of Madagascar Earthwatch volunteer herself, has been the project’s fossa veterinarian every year since 2000. A small animal veterinarian in Manhattan, she takes three months a year away from her busy practice to pursue the science and preservation of carnivores in Madagascar. She became a full Earthwatch Scientist in 2005

Leon Pierrot Rahajanirina

received his D.E.A. for his work on fossa in Ankarafantsika. He teaches a class on conservation biology at Pfeiffer University in conjunction with Dr. Dollar. He has worked with the Fossa Research Team (FoReT) since 1998 and has been Field Director and Chief of Staff for the project since 2003.

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Earthwatch Institute

Earthwatch Institute engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. We believe that teaching and promoting scientific literacy is the best way to systematically approach and solve the many complex environmental and social issues facing society today.

Earthwatch is a diverse community of scientists, educators, students, businesspeople, and resolute explorers who work together to get the fullest benefit from scientific expeditions. In addition to 150 dedicated staff in the United States, England, Australia, and Japan, Earthwatch supports more than 130 scientists each year and builds networks of hundreds of students and teachers.

The Earthwatch community also includes 20,000 global members, 4,000 eager volunteers each year, 50 collaborating conservation organizations, and 50 corporate partners, all of whom work together to make a difference. Below you will find out more about our leadership, employment opportunities, and contact information.

Earthwatch is one of the largest private funders of scientific field research. Each year, they support as many as 100 field research projects with grants, and provide as many as 3,500 volunteer field assistants to scientists conducting research around the world. Earthwatch support not only provides scientists with valuable people-hours of data collection, it also helps scientists communicate the importance of their work to motivated volunteers who in turn share their experiences with friends and family. Currently supported projects include everything from measuring the release of greenhouse gasses in the Arctic to preserving the ancient culture of Fijian seafarers to studying the crocodiles of the Zambezi River, and range across ecosystems as diverse as Brazil's Pantanal, the Greek Mediterranean, and the Mongolian steppe.

A Strategic Approach to research

Earthwatch supports research projects that address the world's most pressing environmental and cultural issues, and focuses its support on applied research where our citizen science model can most effectively make a significant difference in these central global ecological and cultural challenges:

  • Ensuring the sustainability of coastal, forested, agricultural and freshwater ecosystems through optimization of multiple ecosystem services.
  • Managing protected areas and species at the landscape and seascape levels to enhance biodiversity and provide local and regional ecosystem services.
  • Restoring, revitalizing, and conserving our global cultural heritage through a better understanding of socio-cultural links to natural resource use, environmental management and bio-cultural diversity.
  • Addressing the challenge of climate change and its threat to global sustainability.

Earthwatch is a respected leader in the field of experiential education, with programs ranging from improving the quality of geography instruction to "live from the field," web-based virtual expeditions reaching classrooms worldwide. To date, more than 3,500 students and 4,000 classroom teachers have received training and inspiration on Earthwatch expeditions.


Earthwatch establishes strategic international and community partnerships to support multi-disciplinary research projects in some of the world's outstanding areas of ecological and cultural value. By engaging communities in setting priorities and securing their investment throughout the process, Earthwatch implements an effective community-based conservation model.

The Earthwatch Model: 3 Steps to Conservation

Step 1: Plan conservation strategies with local stakeholders and communities
Working closely with community members, partners, local stakeholders, and non-governmental organizations, we help identify and prioritize important environmental problems and cultural issues that need attention.

Step 2: Conduct research to find solutions
Earthwatch zeroes in on critical research to create viable strategies for regional sustainability by finding the right scientists and moblilizing volunteers, who support the research and accelerate the collection of data required to find solutions.

Step 3: Engage people in conservation
Educators and students, business and conservation professionals, local landowners, artists and the members of the public lend their time by working side-by-side with scientists in the field. They learn by doing, finding solutions to local and regional issues and gaining tools to activate change in their own communities

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