Madagascar | Course Description
Madagascar | Island of Diversity
Essential question: Considering the competing demands of development, tradition, and sustainability, what must be done to conserve Madagascar’s unique natural & cultural resources?
Course description: Madagascar, the “red island,” is a large, stunningly diverse island with pine forests, rainforests, deserts, savanna, mountains, and tropical coastlines. Best known for its lemurs, more than 80 percent of the island’s plant and animal species are endemic – they are found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar’s people are similarly unique. The country’s inhabitants came to the island from places as diverse as Indonesia, Arabia, and mainland Africa over the last 2,000 years, resulting in rich cultural identities that vary across the island and ultimately weave together to form a distinct national identity, unified by a common language. Malagasy people look to their ancestors for guidance and direction, creating interesting cultural tensions as the country modernizes and globalizes. In rice-farming communities, fishing villages, national parks, and large cities, intricate traditions and taboos exist side by side with the issues of modern Africa.
The Madagascar ECS will partner with Where There Be Dragons, an internationally-renowned study abroad program, to explore the intersections between conservation ecology, sustainable development, and cultural diversity. While the majority of Malagasy people make their income from the land, unsustainable land-use practices are threatening their ability to do so into perpetuity. Additionally, such unsustainable practices threaten the conservation of Madagascar’s unique wildlife. By connecting with local communities, NGOs, and environmental researchers, our group will explore the intricate challenges of working to protect unique and rare ecosystems, while also supporting the growth and development of local communities.
This ECS will give students an in-depth immersion into Malagasy culture through homestays, language study, music, food, and more. As French is one of the two official languages in Madagascar, French-speaking students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in French conversation with our guides and other French speakers we encounter. We will spend several days in Ranomafana National Park where we will meet with researchers working on a variety of projects that focus on biodiversity as well as community health and education. Through our travels students will have the chance to see the world-famous lemurs and the Avenue of the Baobabs, and witness firsthand the myriad threats to their preservation. Students will grapple with the challenging intersection of ecology, conservation, culture, and poverty as we look at different strategies to promote environmental conservation while still respecting the needs and culture of the human population.
Instructors: David Benson and Natalie Hanson