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Remembering Rado: The leading figure in Madagascar’s environmental movement dies

Rado Andriamasimanana was a leading member of the generation of Malagasy scientists and conservationists who made conservation in Madagascar a truly national matter as part of the country’s sustainable development. His personality brought many smiles to everyone who knew him and in the course of his career he combined strengths with visitors, expatriates and his compatriots. Rado’s mix of skills was unique and his death is a terrible blow to the preservation and loss of his many friends in Madagascar and around the world.

Rado was born and educated in Antananarivo and graduated from the Lycée Faravohitra and his Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies from the University of Antananarivo. He began his professional career while completing his qualification and in January 1997 joined the team deployed by BirdLife International to set up a country office and run Projet ZICOMA, an ambitious field and desk study program to identify and document the important avian areas of Madagascar.

As deputy head of the field team, Rado visited every corner of Madagascar and observed places and species that few other scientists had seen, such as Madagascar’s highest mountain, Tsaratanàna. Frank Hawkins, the project’s technical advisor at the time, recalls: “During camp in a high-altitude clearing, the team relaxed after dinner when a strangely strangled bird was heard. Rado jumped up after realizing that it must be the call of the Madagascar Red Owl Tyto soumagnei, although he (along with virtually the entire ornithological community) had never heard it before. To everyone’s excitement, the owl flew duly across the clearing. The smile on his face at that chance encounter remains strong in my memory – a smile (usually accompanied by a throaty chuckle) that was one of his strongest qualities. “

In addition to being a top field ornithologist, Rado demonstrated his mastery of scientific interpretation and analysis, as well as the logistics of working in some of the most difficult environments and situations. Rado showed great commitment: while surveying the coast, he and a colleague decided that the best way to guard their small boat overnight is to sleep in it. This indeed proved successful in preventing the theft of the boat, but not its anchor, and the duo, who had slept surprisingly soundly, woke up drifting at sea. They managed to get back to contributing to the creation of the 1999 National Register of Important Bird Areas and a chapter in the African Compendium – this was a milestone for nature conservation in Madagascar and a precursor to the ongoing analysis of key biodiversity areas that set the priorities for tripling Madagascar’s network of protected areas since then.

Rado then took a job at an Environmental Impact Assessment, GIS and Remote Sensing training and advisory center, where he deepened his skills in these technical areas. As the BirdLife Madagascar Country Program expanded into nature conservation projects according to the priorities set by Projet ZICOMA, Rado returned in 2003 with the unusual dual roles of GIS and Fundraising Officer – the latter better related to developing and formulating detailed project descriptions. Rado mastered the art of logical frameworks, objectively verifiable indicators and the like, flawlessly packaged and presented (like hardly anyone else at the time), which helped bring in the means and disciplined planning necessary for the successful work of the BirdLife team.

When the work of the BirdLife program was taken over by the national Malagasy NGO ASITY Madagascar (which became a BirdLife partner), Rado was immediately recruited to take on a role similar to what he had successfully done for BirdLife. ASITY itself was founded in 1996 after Projet ZICOMA’s first workshop. It was attended by Rado who became one of the founding members of ASITY. Rado was a firm believer in the use of technology to support conservation, but was truly “polyvalent” (multi-skilled) and respected inside and outside of ASITY Madagascar for his experience and wisdom in all matters. In my role as a supporter and promoter of the strengthening of ASITY Madagascar, his clear and powerful explanation of the challenges in applying “northern” models for funding and participation of NGOs in the south was unforgettable and well received.

Rado (seventh from left) in the Forest Accelerator workshop in Cambridge, UK in 2019 © BirdLife

Always on the lookout for new challenges, Rado received his PhD in 2011 from the Polytechnic of Antananarivo (ESPA), part of the university, on the effects of climate change on the ecosystem services of the Mahavavy. Kinky wetlands. Alison Cameron, PhD co-supervisor with Professor Eddy Harilala Rasolomanana, recalls not only his academic success, but how ingenious and strategic he was in putting together his supervision team to bring together financial and technical expertise. The work resulted in several collaborative works, including a disturbing study of the likely effects of climate change, suggesting that this may contribute to several Malagasy rainforest bird species in the lowlands, including the iconic Vanga Euryceros prevostii helmet, which occupies over 90% of its original ecological niche loses in 2050. This led Rado to a second position as a lecturer at ESPA for all courses in environmental and conservation biology, which enabled him to convey his knowledge and enthusiasm to a new generation of Malagasy scientists.

As a dedicated father to his three children, Rado’s love and concern for his family was always evident, but never arrogant. Visitors often carried special purchases (he could be very persuasive and made us chase some pretty strange things) for him or his family to Madagascar – the gratitude made the effort a pleasure.

Rado’s life appears to have been cut short by COVID-19. As I write this, some countries are emerging from restrictions put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Let those of us in such a position, the countless millions who are less fortunate, not forget and rest in our support until this disease, which arose from humanity’s misuse of the planet’s resources, passes is. And may Rado’s remarkable heritage of conservation, infectious enthusiasm and professionalism endure in Madagascar.

Rado in the field © ASITY Madagascar

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