- Asity Madagascar has joined a group of Malagasy civil society organisations, Voahary Gasy, calling for an end to the plundering of natural resources in the national parks of north-east Madagascar.
Following the change of government in March this year, all but essential humanitarian aid has been withdrawn by the international community, leaving Madagascar's national park and forestry services with little or no funding.
Loggers are said to have moved into the protected areas, stripping the forests of valuable hardwoods such as rosewood, ebony and mahogany. They work for influential business people who are in possession of illegal but "official" documentation permitting them to export these hardwoods.
Local communities who depend on forest resources and on tourism have been threatened and attacked when opposing these illegal and highly destructive activities. A new trade in bushmeat has developed, according to reports, with Lemurs in particular being killed in large numbers, and some hunters are supplying restaurants 'to order'.
According to BirdLife Madagascar, a number of endemic birds are largely or entirely confined to pristine primary forest in north-east Madagascar, among them the Endangered Madagascar Serpent Eagle Eutriorchis astur and Vulnerable Helmet Vanga Euryceros prevostii and Bernier's Vanga Oriolia bernieri. With the complete breakdown of the enforcement of protected area regulation, and armed gangs operating with impunity in the forests, it has not been possible to assess the impact on these and other threatened species, the group said.
The Malagasy NGOs which have come together to form Voahary Gasy are calling for an immediate halt to exports of hardwoods, particularly rosewood, the enforcement of protected area regulation, the creation of a task force to combat environmental crime, and a campaign to raise awareness within Madagascar of the nature and extent of the destruction of the island's remaining forests.
Voahary Gasy also emphasise that the range of new and extreme threats to Madagascar's environment and biodiversity is very broad and not restricted to the north-east of the country or to precious hardwoods - although most severe here. Other parts of the country, and valuable resources such as reptiles, shark fins and rare plants, are also affected or at least at risk.
Asity Madagascar is working with other groups to control or prevent problems in the far south-east, where the largest expanse of lowland forest, Tsitongambarika, is under threat, and similar initiatives are taking place elsewhere.
Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency are currently preparing a detailed report on the illegal timber trade in Madagascar, due to be released in the coming weeks.
Ms Voninavoko Raminoarisoa, Coordinator of Asity Madagascar warned that if this situation is allowed to continue, many of the conservation gains in Madagascar, including the efforts of local communities to protect their resources, will be lost. "Asity Madagascar, as BirdLife Affiliate, calls on the international community to join efforts to solve these urgent problems."
"These events are a disaster for Madagascar, profiting a tiny number of individuals at immense cost to the country’s economy and extraordinary heritage," said Dr Roger Safford, Senior Programme Manager at BirdLife International. "The global community must help to resolve the situation, but the emergence of Voahary Gasy is a very positive step, showing the commitment of Malagasy institutions and individuals to lead in publicising and tackling the problems."
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