Madagascar Tree Climbing Course - January 6-17, 2016



  • Receive professional hands-on instruction in tropical tree climbing techniques and safety protocols that are applicable in any forest
  • Gain valuable experience in canopy-level research techniques and data collection
  • Engage and collaborate with local researchers from two local conservation groups affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences and Stony Brook University
  • Explore the tops of large tropical trees in the canopy of Ranomafana National Park and Kirindy National Park in Madagascar
  • Spend a night in a hammock in the top of the rainforest (weather dependent)
  • A chance to see lemurs up close in their natural habitat
  • Learn about the complex ecosystem and landscape from local experts
  • Split time between accommodation in well equipped research stations and basic accommodations and/or camping
  • Private transportation from professional drivers
  • All lodging, on-ground transportation, equipment and food included in course fee.  


Course Description

Join Cornell Tree Climbing in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences for a one-of-a-kind exploratory expedition to Madagascar, Africa this January. We will spend ten days learning to climb in the Kirindy and Ranomafana National Parks. As a participant in this inquiry-based expedition, you will gain first hand experience in the field of tropical forest canopy research.

During the day, hands-on professional instruction will take place in small groups with a 3:1 student-instructor ratio. This course offers an opportunity to experience a critically endangered habitat full of endemic species including lemurs and over 1,000 species of orchids.  In the evenings, we will be camping or staying in the nearby research station with hot showers and beds at Centre ValBio.

Your instructors combined have over three decades of teaching experience. Curriculum will include: tree selection, risk assessment, line insertion, Single Rope and Double Rope climbing and overall safety.  Your instructors are teaching towards mastery, and by the end of the course you can expect to be able to climb a tree without the assistance of your instructor.


Madagascar is a warm, humid and rainy island.  In general, you can expect cloud cover during a good portion of the day and temperatures ranging from 20°C-30°C.  There will be ~80% humidity, and it will likely rain for part of the course.



Daily Flow

In general, we will be getting an early start, as there is a greater chance of rain in the afternoon. Meals featuring a combination of the local and foreign cuisine will be served at the research station around 6am, noon and 6pm.  Each morning we will break into small groups of three students and one or two instructors and remain with those groups all day.  Our morning sessions will focus on getting into the canopy and moving around while afternoon will be geared toward skill-development and climbing safety.  Optional evening activities include night hikes, slide show presentations, and data entry.

Course Itinerary

Jan 6:  Students arrive in Antananarivo, travel by van to the Madagascar Biodiversity Center (MBC)
Jan 7:   Receive orientation to Madagascar from MBC collaborators, half day tour of Antananarivo
Jan 8:   Travel by private vehicle to Kirindy, stopping along the way to observe the local landscape and agriculture
Jan 9-11: Climb Baobab trees in Kirindy, train three local researchers, camp out under the stars, overnight in trees (weather dependent)
Jan 12:  Travel by private vehicle to Ranomafana, stopping in the highlands along the way
Jan 13-15: Climb in Ranomafana, train three local researchers to climb rainfrorest trees, stay at Centre ValBio research station
Jan 16:  Travel back to Antananarivo by private vehicle, farewell dinner
Jan 17:  Private Van to airport, Flights out


Course Instructors

Dave Katz, Course Director, Instructor

Dave’s passion for exploration and climbing has motivated trips to remote corners of the world in over sixty countries. Over the course of the last decade, through his work with Cornell University and various Outward Bound schools, Dave has spent over 600 days in the field instructing technical curriculum to a variety of audiences ranging from nine-year-old kids to adult veterans of war. In 2005, along with Mark Holton and Keith Luscinski, Dave founded CTCI. 


Keith Luscinski, Head Rigger, Tree Climbing Instructor

Keith is an industrial rope access technician with a degree in Engineering from Cornell University.  With over a decade of experience climbing trees, bridges and buildings, he holds a Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) Level 3 certification.  As an active member of SPRAT and the ANSI Z359 committee on fall protection, Keith stays current on industry techniques and safety standards. Keith has instructed five international expeditions with CTCI. See Keith’s latest publication in Structure Magazine here.




Dr. Bonnie Blaimer, Local Expert, Tree Climbing Instructor

Bonnie is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Entomology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. She has extensive research experience in Madagascar, acquired through multiple trips to the country since 2006. During the last five years, Bonnie has conducted three self-organized expeditions into the Malagasy forest canopy, climbing trees in search for ants at various field sites on the island. Read Bonnie’s latest publication (9-2015) on canopy ant assemblages here.


General Madagascar Information


Flights into Antananarivo are not included in the course fee and must be arranged on your own. We recommended as a starting point. Direct flights from Europe are handled by Air France. Flights from the US will stop either in Kenya, South Africa or France. If your flight involves multiple airlines please check the baggage policies carefully in order to avoid surprise charges.

Local Currency Information

The course fee includes all expenses. Should you decide to purchase souvenirs, the national currency of Madagascar is the Ariary (MGA). 1 USD is equal to 3103 MGA. ATM machines are only available in the towns of Antananarivo. Please note you cannot rely on credit cards for payment as they are not widely accepted.

Baggage and Baggage Allowance

The standard weight limit for hold baggage on most international carriers into Madagascar is 23kg. We recommend packing only one piece of checked baggage.

Passports and Visas

All nationalities require a full passport that must be valid for 6 months beyond the intended length of stay. It is your responsibility to have the correct personal documents and to obtain your own visa, if one is necessary, in accordance with the regulations of the country you are to visit.

Visas are required for entry to Madagascar. 30-day tourist visas may be obtained at the airport on arrival. If obtaining a visa at the airport, you should ensure that an entry stamp is recorded in your passport. The visa fee is currently suspended.

Vaccinations and Health

Recommended vaccinations for this trip are: Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A. Please consult The Center for Disease Control  for more information.

The CDC recommends malaria prophylaxis for all areas of Madagascar outside of the capital city. We suggest that you seek advice from your doctor or travel health clinic about which malaria tablets to take.


Equipment List

The environment in which we’ll be spending most of our time is hot and humid and the sun is strong. Additional we expect daily rain in one of our locations (Ranomafana).  Daily temperatures will range from 70° to 90°F. As this course takes place during the beginning of the wet season, we expect to see a lot of sun and rain. At 21 degrees south from the equator, one can be sunburned in a matter of minutes.  In general we’ll get up early, work hard during the morning and afternoon and relax during the mid day.  Choose clothing that will protect you from scrapes and scratches in the trees as well from the sun. We will have the chance to shower on all days of course and soap will be available in the mornings and evenings. If you have questions about any items on the list, please ask us via email ( When you travel on the plane or van, it is a good idea to pack your valuables and water into your small backpack and put clothes and climbing gear into the large “checked” backpack.


Lightweight Rain Jacket    

Insulating layer (Fleece jacket or sweater)

2 pair long pants

2 pair sturdy shorts

2 long sleeve shirts (thin fabric)

2 durable cotton t-shirts


Bathing suit (shorts are fine)

Sturdy shoes or hiking boots

4 Pair of socks

Gardening gloves (leather is best)


Personal Gear

Plane tickets – copy them just in case!

Passport, Driver's License                               

Chapstick with sun protection addititve



Mosquito Repellent – DEET is best

Sun hat (baseball caps are fine – as are wide brim)

Contacts, solution, glasses                               



Small towel



Money to spend on souvenirs


General Equipment 

Two 1-quart water bottles (durable like Nalgene)

Pocket knife

Headlamp with extra batteries

Camera with extra batteries and memory                                           

Book or journal

80L Backpack (can rent from COE)

Medium sized day pack (e.g. school backpack)



Please contact Mark Holton at Cornell Tree Climbing to enroll

Phone (607) 254-2798


The course fee payment, $1140 for COE students/staff and $1500 for community, can be made with Visa or MasterCard and includes all on-the-ground expenses, including transportation to/from the airport, food, lodging, climbing gear and instruction.  The course fee does not include flights.