A Zoo Directors role can be full and varied, to begin with you are responsible for the care and welfare of hundreds of animals and there is paperwork by the plenty. What perhaps isn’t part of your daily routine is arriving in Madagascar to meet Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal! That is exactly what has happened to Banham Zoo’s Director of Conservation and Education, Gary Batters.
Not only is Gary one of the zoo’s Directors but he is also the President of The Lemur Conservation Association (AEECL), a charity based around protecting and conserving lemurs in and around Sahamalaza National Park in Madagascar.
The Princess Royal chose to visit the AEECL conservation project whilst visiting Madagascar this week and alongside meeting Gary Batters, Her Royal Highness also met the AEECL Programme Director, Guy Randriatahina, AEECL Vice-President Christoph Schwitzer, the Madagascan President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and the First Lady, as well as a number of ministers and Sylviane Volampeno, the Madagascan Programme Officer for the ‘SOS – Save Our Species’ initiative which is part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Banham Zoo and its sister park, Africa Alive!, have supported the AEECL for many years, their work in conserving lemur species within the Sahamalaza Iles Radama National Park is vital in the fight to save them from extinction. The AEECL’s flagship species is the blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), a critically endangered lemur that is only found in a small area of Madagascar.
During her visit, the Princess was given a grand tour of the AEECL field station, along with a lemur spotting session in the forested areas surrounding the camp. There was also typical Madagascan entertainment on hand.
The work of the AEECL focuses not only on research of the flora and fauna of the Sahamalaza Iles Radama National Park but invests in the local communities to educate and support the future protection of the surrounding habitats through empowering the local people. This may be through building new schools, running educational programmes, building wells and providing solar power. Villagers are also encouraged to take part in firebreak maintenance and the reforestation programme, whilst employment is provided through ecotourism and subsidising teacher’s salaries.