BirdLife hails 'ecotourism revolution in Madagascar'


A new BirdLife initiative to expand birding tourism in the little-known Mahavavy-Kinkony region of western Madagascar is expected to hugely benefit both wildlife and local people.

The habitat of the region is packed with extraordinary and rare wildlife, and takes its name from a combination of Lake Kinkony, Madagascar’s second biggest lake, and the River Mahavavy, which flows through to reach the sea via a large delta. It covers such a range of habitats, from mudflats, mangroves and forests to freshwater lakes, marshes and grasslands, that the site is classed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site), and a vital Protected Area (created in 2015 thanks to the efforts of Asity Madagascar), said BirdLife.

Mahavavy-Kinkony is a place like no other, said BirdLife: the vast complex of habitats harbour unique wildlife, while its towns, villages and landscapes also make it a vibrant cultural hub for the people of western Madagascar. So far, only the more intrepid ecotourists have visited the site, but this looks set to change. Asity Madagascar (BirdLife Partner) has brought together local and national organisations to vastly expand birding tourism at Mahavavy-Kinkony, an action that expected to benefit local communities and wildlife alike.

Birders venturing to the area are in for a real treat. The wetlands of western Madagascar hold several bird species found nowhere else, including the Endangered Madagascar Teal, the Critically Endangered Madagascar Fish Eagle and the Endangered Sakalava Rail, as well as spectacular lemurs such as Crowned Sifaka and Decken’s Sifaka.

Bernier's Teal, Betsiboka Delta, Madagascar (Keith Barnes).

As well as its value as a wildlife haven, Mahavavy-Kinkony is also of immense cultural importance as the heartland of the Sakalava ethnic group, who inhabit of much of Western Madagascar. In fact, Sakalava royalty are among the key supporters of the site’s conservation, making it a very promising prospect for ecotourism.

In 2016, an annual event called Safari Birding was set up in Mahavavy-Kinkony to promote ecotourism. Asity Madagascar joined forces with local tourism offices and the local community to help transformation of the site into a birding hot-spot. Its success sparked an even bigger event in November 2017, and it has since become a flagship project for Boeny Region.

At the most recent event, locals seemed surprised to hear that the Sakalava Rail of Lake Kinkony was of particular interest to birders due to its great rarity, and had the potential to attract birders from around the world. It has also been agreed that local communities will co-manage the Protected Area with Asity Madagascar, and will share the benefits which tourism is expected to bring to the wildlife-rich region.

National tour operators also took part and responded positively, agreeing to improve the organisation of birding activities in the area, because – although visitors report wonderful experiences – access has remained a challenge for ecotourism operators until now.

Madagascan Fish Eagle, Lake Ravelobe, Ampijoroa, Madagascar (Peter Gasson).