2009 Daniel Rakotondravony

Dr. Andrianarivo Daniel Shelyno Rad Rakotondravony is a mammalogist and conservation biologist who, for nearly three decades, has played a crucial role in the advancement of conservation sciences in his home country, the island nation of Madagascar. He is one of the leading figures to increase knowledge of the island’s biota by gathering field data, applying this information to new conservation programs, and by working with several generations of Malagasy students as well as foreign and national researchers. Dr. Rakotondravony serves as head of the Animal Biology Department at the University of Antananarivo and plays a very active role in the collaboration between foreign researchers and the Malagasy scientific community.

The island of Madagascar is without parallel in the world with regards to its unique biota and high levels of endemism, including a remarkable number of micro-endemics that have important bearing on designating new protected areas. This extraordinary biological distinctiveness, combined with extensive deforestation and profound socio-economic problems, makes Madagascar one of the most critical conservation priorities on our planet. Less than 8% of the country’s original vegetation cover has been retained, and the foundation of knowledge regarding Madagascar’s flora and fauna is notably scarce. Without expanding this knowledge, conservation strategies will remain incomplete. Continuing the exploration of the island’s biota, understanding its biogeographic patterns, and using this information for setting conservation priorities are of the utmost importance.

For almost three decades Dr. Rakotondravony has been organizing and taking part in biological inventories of unknown and poorly known areas of Madagascar. He has taken an active role in these field activities by visiting a remarkable number of different regions for inventories, and by helping make this data available to scientific and conservation communities. He has written and co-authored a wide range of scientific papers and monographs which include the description of several new species of mammals, as well as several field studies that provide important data to the development of conservation strategies and new protected areas.

Dr. Rakotondravony has played a very important role in bringing field data and its associated interpretations/syntheses to the attention of Malagasy authorities and NGOs who work in the fields of conservation planning and management. In September 2003, during the World Parks Conference held in Durban, South Africa, the President of Madagascar, Mr. Marc Ravalomanana, stated that Madagascar would increase the amount of land within the country’s protected area system by three-fold within the next 10 years. As a result, there has been keen interest amongst Malagasy officials to prioritize regions of the country in need of protection. The data being used for these decisions come largely from biological inventories. Dr. Rakotondravony, along with his colleagues and students, has been actively involved in this process, particularly with the interface between interpretation of biological data and policy.

One of Dr. Rakotondravony’s greatest services in the advancement of science in his native country has been pedagogic; serving as a mentor to generations of Malagasy students and as a colleague to scores of Malagasy and foreign researchers. Dr. Rakotondravony is one of the outstanding individuals in the national university system who is truly interested in advancing young Malagasy scientists. With remarkable patience and attention, he has served on the committees of about 140 graduate students in his department, either as the principal or secondary advisor associated with Ph.D. and D.E.A. (largely equivalent to a Master’s in the American system) theses. His door is always open to students seeking advice and mentorship in their academic endeavors, as well as Malagasy researchers looking for aid with their scientific research. Dr. Rakotondravony has been extremely open to collaborations with many foreign scientists working in the country, organizing necessary protocols and permits, particularly for those researchers working closely with university students. He has taught numerous courses in biology and conservation at provincial universities and has taken part in several field schools for young Malagasy biologists. Recently, with a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Rakotondravony established a new program and degree in conservation biology for students at the University of Antananarivo.

Daniel Rakotondravony is one of the most important figures in conservation biology for Madagascar. Over the past few decades he has actively taken part in advancing information on the biota of the island, either through fieldwork of his own or his students. He has been dynamically involved in the progression of conservation programs, particularly where biological data is used for the formulation of well-based policy. Dr. Rakotondravony has been a mentor to generations of Malagasy students who have become today’s leaders in various fields associated with conservation and the sciences. His hard work, commitment, and progressive actions have had significant impact on preserving the natural legacy of Madagascar.