Thank You, Madagascar: Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly – book review

By Gabriel Thoumi

In Thank You, Madagascar: Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly, Dr. Jolly tells the riveting, personal, and often heroic tale of Madagascar conservation. For over fifty years, from her first steps in Madagascar in the early 1960s to her most recent visit before her untimely passing February 2014, she takes the reader step-by-step through Madagascar’s conservations successes and challenges as the countries careens from one economic development experiment to another – from socialism to dictatorships to sustainable development – even while its own citizens suffer from horrific malnutrition, famine, and disease.

She also provides a detailed account of the daily travails those from Madagascar and those coming from overseas to Madagascar faced in attempting to simultaneously secure a sustainable development dividend for the same forest dependent communities who rely on the forest for their daily sustenance. Jolly – through the intimate lens of sharing her personal conservation diaries from the past fifty years – challenges us to consider – does Madagascar’s unique endemism and biological richness belong either to the entire world, to the forest-dependent communities, or to those who see it only as an economic resource to be exploited?

Jolly also describes how her decades of studying lemurs demonstrated that their complex social relationships – filled with grooming, play, and interacting – formed an evolutionary basis for the development of higher intelligence Jolly further discovered that the lemurs of Madagascar are a female dominated group.

In one highly charming and entertaining anecdote, Jolly explains in-person to Jeffrey Katzenberg – producer of the Madagascar movies – while they are both in the forests of Madagascar, that lemurs would not have a king. Instead, she suggests that he rewrite the Madagascar movie screenplay including the lead lemur as a female queen, as opposed to a male. Advice, Katzenberg didn’t take.

On the more serious side, Jolly’s impact on conservation in Madagascar is unmeasurably. Simply put, because of her scientific work and her collaborative approach to leadership and team building, she has left a rich legacy of active Madagascar native-born ecologists furthering her groundbreaking scientific analysis.

Jolly, unfortunately, you will be unable to read our Mongabay review as you passed a year ago. We will continue to work as diligently and thoroughly as we can to conserve Madagascar’s endemic ecosystems, its myriad of unique flora and fauna, and of course, it beautiful and beguiling lemurs – the primates whom whose conservation you dedicated your life. Personally, thank you for writing your book as it left me in tears.

I hope others have the chance to read Jolly’s book, delve into the Homerian richness and tragedy of Madagascar’s endemic flora and fauna, while seeking solace in the impact a single person can have – such as you – on the knowledge, conservation, and sustainable development of a country such as Madagascar.

How to order:

Thank You, Madagascar: Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly
Publisher:            University of Chicago Press and Zed Books
ISBN:                        9781783603183
Author:                   Alison Jolly, PhD.

Gabriel Thoumi, CFA, Certified Ecologist, is a frequent contributor to

Author: mongabay

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