Type “Madagascar” into any internet search engine and you are more likely to get reviews of the latest DreamWorks cartoon franchise followed by depressing snippets of news on poverty, disease, and economic hardship than any positive information on the country’s truly amazing natural resources.
To conservationists such as myself, who have been working in the world’s fourth largest island to preserve the country’s forests and wildlife, many of which evolved uniquely and are found nowhere else, the limited awareness of Madagascar’s natural riches leaves us scratching our heads.
In these ‘green times’, when conservation and wildlife stories are prominent, eco-tourists roam the globe, and public interest in all things ecological continues to grow steadily, why is so little attention paid to a country that houses a staggering 5% of global biodiversity while occupying a mere 0.4% of the global landmass?
Even for the most jaded visitors of national parks, Madagascar’s forests are otherworldly. Part of it is in the voyage – the hours and hours of bouncy roads; the dust and mud; the tropical storms that spring up out of nowhere; the makeshift bridges constructed plank-by-plank by local villagers when a car turns up; and the bamboo rafts that serve as car ferries.
Once in the forest, there is a magical atmosphere. Because the animals are smaller than in mainland African parks, you have to work harder for a wildlife experience, but patience is rewarded. See the aye aye lemur with its witch-like yellow eyes. Try and spot one of the more than 70 chameleon species found only in Madagascar. Wake up in the misty forest dawn to the indri lemur’s howling.
There have been some amazing conservation successes here over the past decade. The country tripled its terrestrial protected area coverage between 2003 and 2014 and these parks now cover 12% of the country.To enhance conservation of marine ecosystems and coastal zones, the Malagasy president recently committed to tripling the number of marine protected areas.
As a result of these and many other initiatives, Madagascar has recently been praised as performing better than many developing countries in conserving their share of global vertebrate diversity – despite being home to the second highest number of threatened mammals in the world, as measured by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But all these actions need money. Madagascar has long been a global leader in sustainable conservation financing mechanisms. In 2005 the country created a national conservation trust fund that generates enough revenue to support over 20,720 sq km (8,000 sq miles) of protected areas. That fund now advises other developing countries on how to create their own.
Using a mechanism that both generates financing for conservation and mitigates climate change, Madagascar has been a forerunner in developing projects to sell carbon credits. The credits are financial instruments bought by governments or industry to offset their emissions, with each credit representing one tonne of carbon dioxide not emitted into the atmosphere.
In 2013, the Wildlife Conservation Society-supported Makira Carbon Project supplied the first credits to be sold by the Malgasy government on the voluntary carbon market in Africa. Unfortunately this is not enough. Madagascar is slowly emerging from a five-year political standoff and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. That reality translates into stiff competition for dedicated development assistance monies.
The country’s protected area network needs about $25m (£17m) per year to function effectively. While this seems like a big number, consider that the most recent instalment of the DreamWorks Madagascar animated film franchise reportedly cost $135m – a sum that would support the entire network of protected areas in Madagascar and 75% of the country’s remaining forest for the next six years.
Over the past few years while the country has been in political turmoil, turtle smugglers and precious timber barons have made millions of dollars from the illegal pillaging of the country’s natural resources – and the exploitation continues today, despite clear commitments from the democratically elected government to make conservation a priority.
Researchers with Temple University recently reported that some 28,000 lemurs – the world’s most endangered primates – have been taken from the wild over the past three years to be used as pets. This new development exacerbates population threats lemurs already face due to hunting and poaching.
If we can dedicate tens of millions of dollars to see 90 minutes of animated lemurs, surely we can spend something similar to protect real lemurs threatened in the wild. Or to conserve 70,000 sq km (27,000 sq miles) of protected forests and coasts that harbour a plethora of unique animals and plants.
The fact is that, while Madagascar the movie may live on digitally forever, this fantastic island nation’s unique and rare species, once lost, will be gone forever.
Reblogged from the Guardian
Photo © Shutterstock/Dudarev Mikhail, Alex Hyde/Corbis, Paul Souders/Corbis