Zoo goes back to the source

Jo with lemurs in Madagascar
Jo with lemurs in Madagascar

For Jo and Dave Marsden, who run Lakeland Wildlife Oasis near Milnthorpe, their recent trip to Madagascar was a pilgrimage.

Their zoo introduces its visitors to lemurs, rare Malagasy frogs, mongoose-like fossas and tenrecs, which resemble hedgehog and are native to the island off east Africa.

Many of the animals are involved in breeding programmes that could one day save their species.

Jo and Dave wanted to check on the wild cousins of the animals they care for.

Jo, 58, said: “Some of the animals, like lemurs, are well-known. But before the Dreamworks film Madagascar no-one had heard of fossas.

“Madagascar is like a mini Australia where evolution happened independently, now they have unique flora and fauna.”

Dave, 64, said: “Something like 95 per cent of the forests have gone from Madagascar.

“Because the fossas are losing their habitat they have started coming into contact with people, taking chickens and goats.

“The hope is that the habitat could be regenerated some time in the future. In 50 years’ time it might be possible to re-establish a population of fossas on Madagascar.”

Lakeland Wildlife Oasis is a registered conservation charity and is involved in international breeding programmes.

While pandas like the pair at Edinburgh Zoo get all the international media attention, the Marsdens say conservation of other animals can be a tough struggle.

Dave said: “We lose at least one species a year from the world but a lot of the time no-one has heard of them so there isn’t a public outcry.”

Zoos like Lakeland Wildlife Oasis attempt to balance the drive to conserve with the need to have animals popular with visitors. There’s also a balance to be struck in Madagascar if its unique wildlife is to be protected.

Jo says: “Eco-tourism could be the financial future of the island and we’ve been trying to help the people of Madagascar to help themselves. Some species have already died out. They used to have lemurs as big as gorillas, not any more. The battle now is helping isolated communities of fossas and lemurs link up with each other through specifically created conservation corridors.”

Jo added: “It’s worth fighting for. When a species is gone from Madagascar it’s gone from the world.”