Madagascar's rainforests added to UNESCO World Heritage Danger List

7/31/2010

The rainforests of Madagascar have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage Danger List – prompting a call to action from Conservation International to the international community to take swift and effective action to prevent the loss of the world's most important biological treasures.

Madagascar has seen a dramatic increase in illegal logging, commercial poaching of lemurs, and other damaging environmental practices since last year's coup – which has led to political turmoil and a pillaging of the nation's biological assets.

Dr. Russell A Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a world expert on the ecology and wildlife of Madagascar said: "What has been happening in Madagascar since the coup is little more than a smash-and-grab raid. Unscrupulous companies have been taking advantage of the upheaval and the willingness of the current regime to allow highly damaging practices which bring no benefit to the nation and simply enrich a few greedy people."

UNESCO has added six areas of rainforest in the east of Madagascar – which harbor an extraordinary diversity of endemic species including an array of endangered lemurs, birds, reptiles and amphibians – to the danger list. These areas – designated as a world heritage cluster known as Atsinanana – have been the particular focus of illegal logging over the past year because they have traditionally been well protected and thus contain many valuable trees such as rosewood. The current regime has not fulfilled its obligations to protect them. It is hoped that placing them on the Danger List will generate increased political pressure and funds for the protection of these important wildernesses.

Dr. Mittermeier, who is also a vice chair of IUCN, added: "This has also shattered the nation's tourist industry, which was a key driver in its economic development, and is pushing many species that exist nowhere else on earth to the brink of extinction. Hopefully adding this incredibly important area to the UNESCO Danger List will make the international community sit up and take notice of what is happening, and take serious steps to stop the destruction of Madagascar's incredible natural resources."

He said: "These forests are of vast importance so we must take urgent action to protect them. It is essential that the world does not fail Madagascar."