A great many conservationists may be familiar with the Red-tailed Tropicbird; few may know about the Marine Turtle. This article takes the author into the reader into the world of Vezo fishers who live along the southwest coast of Madagascar and engage in conservation projects involving the Red-tailed Tropicbird and the Marine Turtle. The two case studies reveal that there is no one recipe for conservation success. Uneven incentives for including conservation into local economies and social spheres of exchange have led to patchy results in the conservation of these important species on the island of Madagascar.
The Tropicbird has a long association with Vezo residents, who have judged the bird an important part of their social community. An indigenous conservation ethic has been in play involving the preservation of the bird and its nesting places. With ecotourism bringing more monetary incentives to the residents, they continued to protect this bird species.
The Marine Turtle has a far more complicated relationship with these fishers. Being a large animal that is difficult to acquire, in some ways the turtle is like a zebu cow to Vezo Sara people. Malagasy throughout the island acquire cattle for economic, religious, and social purposes. Sacrificing the blood of cattle marks important ceremonies commemorating kin and requesting numerous blessings from ancestors; working cattle till the soil in rice fields and pull ox-carts. The Marine Turtle performs similar functions for seminomadic fishers. People exploit the turtle to exchange it through various spheres of value: for money, for rituals, and for prestige.
Written with a deep understanding of coastal life, of Vezo social thought and practice, and of the challenges facing wildlife species in marine environments, this article should ignite new interest in conservation and society in Madagascar.
Originally published as:
Lilette V. 2006. Mixed Results: Conservation of the Marine Turtle and the Red-Tailed Tropicbird by Vezo Semi- Nomadic Fishers. Conservation and Society 4(2): 262–286.