A pioneering government plan to protect much of Madagascars remaining forests has expanded by another 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres or 3,862 square miles), providing new hope that highly threatened species such as black-and-white ruffed lemurs, golden-crowned sifakas and Madagascar serpent-eagles can avoid extinction.
President Marc Ravalomananas government increased the island-nations protected territory by a combined area larger than Cyprus at the end of 2005. The latest expansion, under the leadership of Minister for the Environment Hon. Gen. Sylvain Rabotoarison, keeps Madagascar on track to fulfill President Ravalomananas 2003 pledge to triple his nations total protected areas to 6 million hectares (14.82 million acres or 23,000 square miles) by 2008.
It is important to stress the positive impact biodiversity conservation has on economic development, President Ravalomanana said. It is essential to use nature conservation to generate a great sense of pride among the population of Madagascar for our unique biodiversity.
Madagascars program is a model for developing world governments faced with the choice of exploiting natural resources for a one-time payoff or conserving natural assets so the economy and local communities benefit from them in perpetuity. Other nations opting for conservation and long-term benefits include Costa Rica, Suriname and Equatorial Guinea.
The unique biodiversity of Madagascar, with thousands of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth, has been under threat for decades from forest destruction, illegal wildlife trade and other problems. Researchers estimate that more than 85 percent of the original forest cover has disappeared.
Conservation International (CI) and other groups working in Madagascar hailed President Ravalomananas global leadership in committing to protect his nations unique flora and fauna.
Such a bold step demonstrates how visionary leaders can ensure the well-being of their people and their nations," CI President Russell A. Mittermeier said. "This territory includes some of the most important biodiversity real estate on the planet, home to numerous Critically Endangered species found only on Madagascar. Protecting it saves a vital part of the Earth's natural heritage and promotes sustainable development that will benefit Madagascar's people now and in the future.
The new protected areas include some of Madagascars most pristine forests. The Mantadia-Zahamena corridor has more than half the known population of Endangered species such as the indri (Indri indri), black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata) and diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema), while the Makira corridor has much of the remaining lush lowland forest that is home to the major population of the Endangered Madagascar serpenteagle (Eutriorchis astur).
In Anjozorobe, Indri and red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer) live in the largest remnant of the threatened central plateau forests just 90 minutes by road from Antananarivo, the capital, giving it major ecotourism value. Another lemur, the Critically Endangered golden-crowned sifaka (Propithecus tattersalli), lives only in the Daraina area of northeast Madagascar that also is part of the new protected territory.
Organizations assisting the government in its protected area program include CI, Association Fanamby, the Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Agence Franaise de Dveloppement and the World Bank. The next phase in the program calls for bolstering economic benefits for the thousands of local people living in and around the protected areas through ecotourism, ecosystem services contracts, and ecological monitoring initiatives.