Africa specialist Peter has just returned from Madagascar, where he visited the wonderful Anja Park community project...
After 11 years in the travel industry I have always been wary of "buzzwords" that are thrown around and descriptions such a 'Boutique Hotel' and 'Multi-Generational Travel' have always struck me as new ways to describe something that already existed and was perfectly functional.
However, one trend that has started in the last few years that I can fully support is the concept of Community Conservation projects. These have moved away from the old model of simply giving local communities some of the proceeds from national parks, hotels, lodges and wildlife areas and actively got them involved in the conception and running of such projects. Whilst in mainland Africa these have been going for a while, such projects in Madagascar are in their relative infancy so it was a great privilege to spend some time at the community run Anja Park.
Found just off one of the country's main highways between the Andringitra and Ranomafana National Parks, this park is home to some 500 ring-tailed lemurs, as well as a variety of birds, chameleons and other reptiles and makes for a great spot to break your journey between the two parks. Despite being a confirmed wildlife enthusiast I found the lemur spotting experience (which was fantastic with large families found throughout the forest) secondary to the story behind the park and the benefits it is bringing to the local communities.
The idea behind the park was to ensure that a small area of forest was protected from the inevitable deforestation which comes with a growing rural population and the need for more space for agriculture and the grazing of Madagascar's ever-present herds of zebu. The local communities realised that by protecting a small area of forest they would have their own part of the island's unique wildlife to show to visitors and have a means of raising their own money to benefit the surrounding area.
The project has been a resounding success with the monies raised helping to support a local school and pay the salaries of the teachers. In a country where education is not mandatory this provides an incentive not only for adults to remain in teaching jobs but for children to attend one of the best equipped schools in the region. The income is supplemented by an excellent cafe and even a small hotel, meaning visitors can have the full Anja Park experience without having to drive in from many miles away.
Anja Park is a truly inspiring project and shows the way forward to other areas of Madagascar where communities can work in harmony with one another to ensure that the island's extraordinary wildlife is preserved for generations to come and that locals can have a hand in and benefit directly from the intrepid travellers who make the journey to this wonderful corner of the world.