Biology Bucket List: Madagascar

Auburn University at Montgomery faculty leader, Shelly Taliaferro, is well-traveled when it comes to exploring biology hotspots around the world. First inspired by her own high school biology teacher’s passion for the natural world, Shelly has championed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for her own students, leading short-term education abroad programs to biology bucket list destinations. Ready for a new and exciting destination, Shelly recently collaborated with the WorldStrides ISA Custom Programs team to develop a program off the beaten path – to Madagascar!

WorldStrides: Why choose to take students abroad? What made you want to introduce students to new cultures and experiences?
Shelly: As an adult, I have continued to travel and have been overseas many times in search of new birds and other wildlife. I have traveled as a volunteer researcher to Borneo to study rainforest arthropods and to the Galapagos Islands to work with finches. The benefits of study abroad cannot be summed up in a few sentences. The knowledge gained from international travel – different languages, cultures, customs, habitat, wildlife, food, etc. is immeasurable. Wherever the destination, study abroad is always a life-changing and memorable experience. I have taken a total of 8 international trips with students, to study the ecology of Costa Rica, Galapagos, and most recently, Madagascar.


WorldStrides: What were the most rewarding parts of the program?
Shelly: As biologists/biology students, we most loved the opportunities to see incredible endemic plants and animals, up close and personal. Lemurs are such a joy to watch, and Madagascar is the only place in the world to see these primitive primates in the wild. At Lemur Park, we canoed to an island, where waiting lemurs jumped in our boats, then onto our shoulders, in search of bananas. Everyone had huge smiles that day – nothing beats the experience of a leaping lemur that lands on your head! In addition to the lemurs, we saw many species of colorful chameleons and the drably-colored, but adorable, dwarf chameleon, as well. The trip provided a first-hand and enlightening look at the smorgasbord of environmental issues that threaten biodiversity. Though the Malagasy people lack material wealth, they are rich in other ways – their sense of community and culture, and their warm, friendly smiles made Madagascar memorable.

WorldStrides: What were your “must-see” or “must-do” activities on your program?
Shelly: From the travel guides and research on the internet, I did make a list of “must-see” and “must-do” things. And, our group was fortunate to “Skype chat” with a few scientists, who work extensively in Madagascar. Each of these scientists provided input for our itinerary. However, since I had never been to Madagascar, I trusted WorldStrides to arrange the guides, hotels, flights, etc. I gave them a wish-list of things to see and do, and they made it happen!


WorldStrides: Why is using a partner like WorldStrides ISA Custom Programs important?
Shelly: For this recent trip to Madagascar, it was quite helpful to organize the study abroad through an organization like WorldStrides. I had never traveled to Madagascar and was unfamiliar with this country. Madagascar is a large island, with a variety of unique habitat types, each harboring a special set of plants and animals. We wanted to make the most of this trip – to see and do as much as possible, within our allotted time abroad. The team at WorldStrides made sure that we had knowledgeable local guides who knew just where to go to see target species. As a result, we did not “waste” time wandering around aimlessly, and we were able to see a huge assortment of incredible plants and animals, most found nowhere else in the world!



Photo/video credit: Shelly Taliaferro, Auburn University at Montgomery