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Antananarivo, Ranomafana, Beza Mahafaly, Tulear, Madagascar

Program Description

In this program we will examine primate ecology, extinction and conservation in both the rainforests and dry forests of Madagascar. The primates of Madagascar are particularly special because, like so much of Madagascar's flora and fauna, the entire radiation of lemurs is found only in Madagascar. Students will learn about the origins, adaptations, threats and extinctions of Madagascar's lemurs. Primates will be studied in the broader context of biodiversity, recent extinctions, and the relationships between people and environment in one of the poorest countries in the world whose unique natural environment has been named one of the world's top biodiversity hotspots.

In the first part of the course we will spend most of our time in the rainforest around Ranomafana National Park. Students will learn techniques for studying primate behavior and ecology, phenology, and mapping and will begin collecting data for a comparative research project. The second part of the course will involve cross-country travel where we will study the complex forces driving the pressures on natural resources across a transect from the high mountain plateau of Eastern Madagascar to the dry southwest. Students will learn about the unique flora and fauna of Madagascar, investigate the diverse traditions and socioeconomic issues of the people of Madagascar, and gain an understanding of the issues and challenges involved in balancing the management of Madagascar’s natural resources and biodiversity with the socioeconomic development needs of its people. We will examine the ecological, economic, political and social viability of different strategies for managing and conserving the forests used by different government agencies and national/international conservation organizations, including national parks, special reserves, protected areas, community-based forest management, ecotourism, and sustainable agriculture. Finally, we will spend the last part of the course in Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve in the dry forest of southwest Madagascar where students will learn about a completely different habitat and complete their short-term research project or in-depth comparative analysis on their chosen topic related to primate ecology and conservation.

Location Description

Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world. It's long geographic isolation from the mainland has resulted in incredibly high levels of endemism with 90% of its wildlife (including the lemurs) found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar is also home to over 25 million people, and it is one of the poorest countries of the world. Because of its rich biodiversity, high levels of endemism, and the increasing threats from a growing and impoverished population, Madagascar is considered to be one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. The ecosystems in Madagascar are incredibly diverse, including high mountain rain forest, deciduous forest, and spiny desert, and the people and lifestyles equally so. We will examine a large part of the breadth of these natural environments while we travel from the high mountain rainforest to the spiny desert of southwest Madagascar. However, we will also have the opportunity to examine primate ecology in two of these areas, the rainforest near Ranomafana National Park, and the dry forest at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve.

Instruction will begin in the capital city of Antananarivo where we will have the opportunity to meet with officials and learn about the national park structure and the political and economic challenges of conservation in a country such as Madagascar. We will travel to Ranomafana National Park where we will be based for the initial part of the course. Both classroom and field instruction will be in the park and surrounding area where one of the most sophisticated field stations is located in Madagascar. The second part will involve travel from the eastern rainforests, through the dry forests and into the southwest of Madagascar. We will spend some time in the town of Tulear in southwest Madagascar, but we will spend most of our time in the remote Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve. This reserve, although open to the public for visitation, is mostly a research station and facilities are quite primitive. Beza Mahafaly is surrounded by a number of villages with whom the reserve and related conservation projects work very closely.


Roshna Wunderlich | | Biology


Accommodations will vary based on our location. Students will stay in shared hotel rooms, shared dormitory accommodations, and shared tents. At Beza Mahafaly, in particular, accommodations are quite primitive (students will stay in group tents), including no running water and pit toilets. Food will be prepared on-site for the group at the research stations, and we will eat in restaurants during travel and in cities. Internet access and phone access will be extremely limited except for short times in the major cities. All transportation will be as a group in small buses or 4-wheel drive vehicles.

All meals will be provided as part of the program. On the few occasions where a group meal is not planned, students will be given a stipend to cover their meal.

Additional Items to Consider

  • Students will need a passport and visa for Madagascar

  • Students should visit their physician or a travel physician to get the most recent recommendations for vaccinations. This will include a prophylactic for malaria which is present at high levels in Madagascar.

  • Cell phone reception is increasing every year in Madagascar. If a student chooses to bring an unlocked phone and buy a Malagasy SIM card, they will have some opportunities for connectivity, however they should not rely on the presence of cell phone service or wifi even if it is advertised as present somewhere.

Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Prerequisite: BIO 250 and/or ANTH 196 or permission of the instructor 

French is helpful but not required

Junior or senior standing

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($25 fee)
  • Short essay 
  • Resume
  • Interview with Program Director
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU and first semester transfer students.

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


BIO 426: Madagascar Study Abroad I: Ecology and Conservation in Madagascar (3 credits)

BIO 427: Madagascar Study Abroad II: Ecology and Conservation in Madagascar (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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