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by Wally Van Sickle

Even Dr. Suess and the Lorax could never have imagined such a place. It is a place the size of California set adrift from the African mainland more than 165 million years ago, a place teaming with bizarre life forms found nowhere else on the planet and quit likely nowhere else in the Universe:

– a place where insects sing so loud you can barely hear anything else
– a place where monstrous trees look like they have been tipped upside down and jammed back into the ground
– a place where reptiles change color depending on their mood
– a place where lemurs call with such intensity they make your spine tingle
– a place where rainforests morph into hot dry spiny deserts
– a place where more species of orchids are found than in all of Africa combined
– a place where stars and planets shine so bright you can see your own shadow at night
– a place where not a single poisonous snake exists underfoot or in the trees or in the water or next to your knees
– a place where living fossils with lobed fins still swim offshore
– a place where un-hatched mega eggs are still found left by an elephant bird ten feet tall
– a place where colorful flowers produce anti-cancer drugs
– a place where spiders make webs as large as sheets
– a place where terrestrial snails peer at you with eyes on the tips of expanding stalks
– a place where tiny lemurs the size of chipmunks scurry all night long through the arms of the octopus tree.

This is a place where every single life form you encounter is one you have never seen before. This place is called Madagascar and it is truly one of the most amazing living jewels found on planet Earth.


Ryan James Kelley became a Peace Corp volunteer and his primary reason for volunteering was to gain real life insight into the root causes of poverty. Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world with an average annual income of $240 per person. Ryan’s degree in philosophy from Fairfield University in Connecticut left him feeling a moral obligation to the developing world. He was assigned to Madagascar in October of 2004 and he began to look into his questions about poverty. “Where there are no questions, there are no answers.” He found plenty of both in Madagascar.

After several weeks in an immersion program in the capital city Antananarivo, Ryan headed South by bus for two and a half days. His destination was Fort Dauphin, at the Southern tip of the country. There he became instrumental in developing training programs for the Libanona Ecology Center (LEC) (

A survey was taken among the local non-profits requesting what types of training were needed to set up functional conservation zones. People trained in zoology, botany, forestry, English, French, accounting, computer science, and monitoring and evaluation were the most requested by the survey. The LEC designed courses based on this survey.

At the LEC, Ryan teaches environmental English and the use of computers to the first group of students to enter the Environmental Conservation and Management Program (ECMP). The program functions like a community college and once finished the graduates will be trained for entry level positions offered by environmental non-profits (there are over 30 in the area) or can pursue advanced degrees in natural resource management.


Nine different ecosystems (rain forest, transitional forest, spiny forest, riparian forest, littoral forest, coral reefs, mangroves, estuaries, and marine ecosystems) all lie within 25 miles of the LEC. The diversity of ecosystems within such a small radius is “unparalleled anywhere on Earth,” and makes for one of the most remarkable outdoor laboratories one could imagine.

Right in the middle of all this natural wonder lies one of the poorest populations in all of Madagascar and one of the most isolated. Almost no educational or training programs existed and most people never even finished high school. This left an enormous void in the human resources needed to manage all those natural resources. Ryan and many others felt that if these resources were sustainably managed, Madagascar could become the next Costa Rica, and if they were not, the next Haiti.

In 2004, the first year the LEC offered the ECMP, fifty applicants applied for twenty positions. The program was supported with great enthusiasm right from the start. Ryan told us he felt that the students he was working with were smarter than anyone he knew.

Ryan asked IDEA WILD for an LCD projector. Ryan and many others use the projector to show lecture notes, power point presentations, exercises, field activities, and discussion notes. Staff and visiting professors all use the projector to get their messages across. While we visited Mark Fenn from WWF was talking with the students about several new parks being established in Western Madagascar and he gave them a power point presentation on the LCD projector.

Ryan and his Malagasy students are the future of natural resource management in Southern Madagascar. The IDEA WILD donors, staff, and volunteers are honored to have been able to help with their conservation efforts.

Project Cost: $999