Conservation in Madagascar


Madagascar has suffered environmental degradation over a significant part of its land mass. Forests that once blanketed the eastern third of the island have now been degraded, fragmented, and converted to scrub land. Spiny forests in the south are rapidly giving way to "cactus scrub" as indigenous vegetation is cut and burned for subsistence charcoal production. Viewed from above, Madagascar's rivers look as if they are bleeding the country to death as soil is eroded away from the central highlands. Each year as much as a third of the country burns and 1 percent of its remaining forests are leveled.

This ecological decline has not been ignored. Environmental regulations have been in place since Queen Ranavalona II first banned slash-and-burn agriculture in 1881. The French-supported rulers followed their own edicts which aimed to protect wildlife and conserve forests. Nonetheless, these efforts met mixed results. On one hand there is still forest in Madagascar—forest that houses thousands of endemic species from lemurs to baobabs to Uroplatus geckos. On the other hand, the amount of forest today is less than at any time since Madagascar was first inhabited by humans less than 2,000 years ago.

At present, more dollars are pouring into conservation efforts in Madagascar than any other part of Africa. What can be done to ensure that this time around conservation will be a success in Madagascar?

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