Madagascar : exploring the last Eden of the Makay

A mountain range in south-west Madagascar, the Makay is one of the last unexplored areas of the island. To study the exceptional biodiversity of the Makay, two scientific expeditions were led by the Naturevolution association, and were partially funded by the Petzl Foundation. Ultimately, their goal is to obtain recognition as a Protected Area, both nationally and internationally.


Hot-air balloon flight over Makay © Evrard Wendenbaum
Hot-air balloon flight over Makay


  • Project partner: Naturevolution,
  • Country: Madagascar, Africa.
  • Project type: Preservation of the environment
  • Budget: €25,000 in 2009 and 2010

The Makay

Consisting of hundreds of intricate canyons, the Makay is a natural labyrinth and true "safe" of biodiversity. It has been home to unique biodiversity for millions of years.

foundation makay nature expedition andasibe 2010

foundation makay nature expedition

This area is considered, with the rest of the island as one of the 11 global Hot Spots priorities for biodiversity conservation because it has a record number of indigenous species: plants, birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians, which are not found anywhere else on the planet.

French explorer Evrard Wendenbaum on a zipline in the palm trees. © Evrard Wendenbaum
French explorer Evrard Wendenbaum on a zipline in the palm trees.

Major discoveries on the first scientific expedition

In January 2010, a first naturalist expedition was organized by the Naturevolution association, conducted by the French explorer Evrard Wendenbaum. Its objective was to study its natural resources, and to compile an inventory of biodiversity, and also to develop local programs for environmental education and eco-tourism.

Packraft, Makay river

This first international scientific expedition has brought together a dozen researchers from several institutes and universities (Missouri Botanical Garden, Natural History Museums of Paris and Toulouse) and Malagasy researchers. Accompanied by climbers and cavers, scientists have gained access to the most remote and highly inaccessible areas, to collect samples.

Un lémurien propithèque verreaux

Gorges de Mangoky, Madagascar

This wealth of expertise resulted in an extremely rich first exploration and the scientific results have exceeded expectations: more than 300 different plant species collected, including several new indigenous species. Biologists have compiled a first inventory of biodiversity.

Many zoological observations were made and ichthyologists have even caught a little fish named Pachypanchax, absolutely unexpected in this region. As for archaeology, dozens of burial sites and two caves with rock paintings were discovered.

A great deal of laboratory work remains to be done to clarify and thoroughly analyse the various samples collected throughout the expedition and the final results are not expected until at least next year, but the results are already outstanding.

Aux alentours de Beronono © Naturevolution

A lost paradise

Makay, Madagascar
Makay, Madagascar

This first international scientific expedition in the Makay has confirmed the urgency of the implementation of conservation measures: this unique paradise will not survive long. In recent decades, man has already burned almost all the forests in the Makay.

The scientific team believes that there are only a few years of survival left for most of the ecosystems they visited. Bush fires are the principal scourges and nothing can be preserved if emergency measures to halt this phenomenon are not taken.

© Evrard Wendenbaum

Preserving natural habitats is one of the greatest environmental challenges of the 21st century. The conservation of Makay’s natural resources is the ultimate goal of the Naturevolution association.

Getting Protected Area status and the ensuing development program for the Makay will very much depend on the results of this vital expedition and the scientific recommendations.

Protected Area status for the Makay?

From November 2010 to January 2011, a new expedition was led by the Naturevolution Association in the Makay. Evrard Wendenbaum and the scientific team were able to discover and explore a new part of the Makay that nobody had ever explored before, always pursuing the same ultimate goal: to obtain Protected Area status. 

Makay, Madagascar

The scientists’ mission was to compile an inventory of plant and animal species, and to discover several endemic species. It was a great success: more than 80 endemic species were identified. This second expedition confirmed that the Makay mountain range is a source of  considerable scientific interest.

scientists © Evrard Wendenbaum

Ed Louis © Naturevolution
Ed Louis, American primatologist and geneticist, brings a wounded lemur to the camp.

© Naturevolution
Vincent Prié, a renowned bat specialist, is about to release a beautiful specimen of Pterofus Rufus (flying fox), a giant frugivorous bat.

Christophe Dumarest, mountain guide and member of the 2011 expedition, said:

Christophe Dumarest portrait "Why take a guide?
To ensure the safety of scientists, to explore inextricable canyons, to make safe anchorages in a very friable sandstone rock, etc. Working conditions are tough in tropical rainforests!
In a way, I was the third eye of scientists focused on their research. The observation of a pristine environment and its treasures allowed me to reconnect with nature: a rich experience from every point of view."

Updated in september 2014



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