IFLScience Meets: Conservation Warrior For Madagascar's Endemic Species Julie Razafimanahaka

Razafimanahaka was awarded the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa 2021. Image courtesy of Julie Razafimanahaka

As Executive Director of the biodiversity organization Madagasikara Voakajy and recent winner of the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa 2021, Julie Razafimanahaka is something of a conservation warrior for Madagascar’s endemic species. During her 16 years in the field, she has contributed towards establishing four protected areas in the Ambatondrazaka district, eastern Madagascar, an important home for colonies of flying foxes.

Here, she tells IFLScience more about her award-winning work with Madagasikara Voakajy, without which the Mangabe rainforest might look very different today.

How did it feel to be shortlisted for the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa (Razafimanahaka's win had not been announced yet)?

I was delighted to be shortlisted for the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa. Since I knew I was shortlisted, I have been watching all the films of the former Tusk Award winners. They are all amazing people doing amazing work. I am honored to be part of this family of heroes. This award assures me we are going in the right direction while acting as a reminder that there is still a long way to go.

(IFLScience has not had a chance to speak with Razafimanahaka since the Tusk Award announcement but would like to congratulate her on this victory!)

Can you tell us about some of the key milestones on your project so far?

I have moved from running a project to running an organisation with multiple projects. We have moved from being a research organisation to a research and conservation organisation, creating protected areas for species conservation in Madagascar. We also help to support people and species within and around the protected areas.

Any funny stories?

I think the funniest story from my life in the field was shortly after I took over as the director of Madagasikara Voakajy in 2012 in Menabe Region, western Madagascar. We had a project engaging children from primary school to plant and look after baobab trees that we called “My Tree”.

I was in the field to follow up the activities. My team was there in advance and had already told the teachers and parents that the director would come to see the project. I arrived and we greeted each other, went to see the planted trees and spoke with the children, parents and teachers.

I can’t remember exactly why but Félicien, the project leader, didn’t have time to introduce me as the director at the beginning. So, towards the end of the visit, about two hours later, as we were taking the last photos of the children with their trees, the parents and teachers asked me “Félicien said that Madagasikara Voakajy’s director is coming today. Where is he?”

Any challenging moments on the job?

Three years after I took over the direction of Madagasikara Voakajy, three core members of the organisation left about six months apart. I was blaming myself because I thought that was because I was not a good leader and key partners would probably stop working with us. Luckily, those partners reacted differently. I was very surprised that some of them even said that it is normal that people leave their job, that this might be good for the organisation and advised me to look at it from a different angle. I recognized the value of this advice a few years later.

What’s your most treasured piece of kit?

Not specifically treasured but I never leave the house without a lipstick. I have one in nearly all of my bags as well as my desk in the office!

What’s one piece of advice you'd give to someone wanting to embark on the same career?

If you want to embark on the same career, my advice would be to listen to yourself and make all temptations to do things differently happen. You may fail, you may succeed. The most important thing is that you have learned to do things better.

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