It is a symbolic irony the Golden Mantella frog’s habitat and the species’ very survival is under threat due to the proliferation of artisanal gold mining among the rivers and ponds that form its jungle habitat in Madagascar’s Mangabe region.
As men dig for gold, they dislodge another precious treasure from its home. The Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) is Critically Endangered and inhabits a tiny range of about 10km2 in eastern Madagascar. This is where Madagasikara Voakajy (MV), an SOS grantee are working to reverse the destruction with the help of local communities through a number of conservation activities including the restoration of damaged pond habitats affected by the clash of man and nature.
Yet gold fever has spurred scores of amateur miners to defy the law, tearing up the riverbeds and ponds in the process as they search for traces of the precious metal. What is more, the practice is utterly destructive and pollutes the water source for local communities living nearby. The profits from gold mining are extremely attractive especially in a country where poverty is rife. Stopping for short periods before they move on deeper into the forest while prospecting for gold, it has proven nearly impossible to identify much less to capture the miners. Meanwhile, the restoration process can take months to implement and up to ten years before a pond system is fully restored, according Julie Hanta Razafimanahaka, MV Director.
While the terrain and the economics of the situation make the MV team’s job a challenging one, fortunately they have support from local community members. Once locals realised the Golden Mantella was unique to their home they became supportive of MV’s efforts to protect the tiny frog, participating in pond restoration activities and patrolling initiatives. Effective patrolling of the thickly forested area is difficult so community involvement is valuable. According to Julie many of the community members have grown up in Mangabe witnessing first-hand the gradual degradation of their forest home and are keen to make a positive impact to turn the situation around.
As such, community engagement efforts in 2012 are beginning to pay off with community oriented project management training completed in October and the first phase of the restoration process well underway at one pond. With four months to go before the frogs enter their winter hibernation period, now is the time when the two worlds of frog and man collide in Mangabe. Some may dig for gold, but others will sow and tend to the ponds of Mangabe's living gold. Building on the work in 2012, Julie’s team will need to support the communities with implementing the projects they have already designed to maintain momentum in the project's development.
Furthermore, plans to begin three more projects in 2013 along with other related community training initiatives will make it a busy year for MV. In fact, a recent plant survey determined a list of species that should be used for pond restoration. As these are not available in the seeds and seedlings resource developed, MV and the participant communities will have to collect the seedlings from the wild.
It is a slow process restoring the ponds, taking years but with local support, knowledge sharing and plenty of elbow-grease, hopefully the waters of Mangabe will shine bright with a living treasure once more.