I am so very happy to be here this evening, to present the Disney Conservation Hero award to Prof. Jonah Ratsimbazafy. It is an important honor not just for him personally, but for the organizations with which he has worked over his long career. His work, and this award, bring attention to the importance of protecting primates and their habitat in Madagascar.
Protecting the environment has been a goal of the American Embassy in Madagascar for decades. We were involved in helping create the Madagascar National Parks, and provided support to people like Dr. Wright who pioneered lemur conservation work in Madagascar. Just a few hours ago, the United States Government, through our Agency for International Development (USAID) signed an agreement with the government of Madagascar to provide millions in funding to help conserve Madagascar’s biologically diverse forest ecosystems. The U.S. Government will support projects that work with local communities around these forests, so that people and animals can benefit from their continued existence.
Working with local communities in and around the forest has been a hallmark of the Group for the Study and Research of Primates — GERP — that Prof. Jonah helped found and now serves as its General Secretary. GERP has worked since 1994 with individuals and communities dependent on charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture, to promote alternate means of support. They have concentrated their effort around Maromizaha forest, an important corridor linking forest blocks in the eastern part of Madagascar. With support from the Houston Zoo, GERP has promoted lemur monitoring by local populations, conservation in local schools, and in 2014 provided more than 10,000 seedlings, produced in their nurseries, to local villagers to help replace destroyed trees.
This is the kind of work that Disney is proud to recognize through its Conservation Heroes program. So many Disney films, from Bambi throughThe Lion King, have encouraged a sense of awe and nurtured a sense of responsibility for the natural world and the animals that inhabit it. Through the Disney Conservation Fund, the company has provided more than $30 million in grants to conservation organizations around the world, including here in Madagascar, to protect its primates, amphibians, and reptiles.
Madagascar’s biodiversity – from the more than 100 species of lemurs, to the radiated tortoise, from the colorful Mantella frogs to the world’s smallest chameleons – is found nowhere else on earth. It must be protected, not only as part of the patrimony for future generations of Malagasies, but on behalf of the whole planet. This task can only be accomplished by the combined efforts of leaders in the academic, business, NGO and international communities. We need dedicated and inspired leaders like Prof. Jonah, supported by stable, transparent governments that are responsive to the needs of all citizens, and socially responsible businesses and corporations, and international community, in order to ensure that these endemic species survive and thrive.
On behalf of the United States, I am therefore so pleased to present this award to Prof. Jonah, not just in recognition of his own work, but for the national and international cooperation he has fostered over the last 30 years. Misaotra beseka, Professor, for all you have done, and all you have committed to do to protect and promote sustainable conservation.