The pillage of Madagascar - the International Community must act now

8/20/2009

Washington, DC – A set of shocking new pictures show a massive upsurge in the illegal hunting of lemurs in Madagascar that threatens the survival of many species, and the international community must act immediately to stop the pillage of the island – Conservation International (CI) said today.

Madagascar’s unique biodiversity is being wiped-out on a shocking scale by criminal gangs who are taking advantage of a break-down in law and order after the recent coup.  After numerous reports of illegal logging and export of hardwoods, the latest scandal is the sale of lemurs (see attached pictures) as bushmeat to restaurant owners who have been ordering the killing of the animals – 15 people have been arrested on the island for this offense.

After the island’s coup earlier this year many international bodies including the World Bank and the US government suspended conservation and development work in Madagascar, providing only “life-saving” aid. This withdrawal of international support has weakened environmental governance in the country and has created the perfect conditions for criminals to profit from the situation.  Since March 2009, there have been a set of environmental catastrophes in one of the world’s most important countries for biodiversity conservation ranging from the illegal felling of trees in national parks for export to Asia, collection of animals for the pet trade, and now the hunting of lemurs for bushmeat, the first evidence we have had of this since the coup.

CI president Dr Russ Mittermeier, one of the world’s leading authorities on lemurs, said: “What is happening to the biodiversity of Madagascar is truly appalling, and the slaughter for these delightful, gentle, and unique animals is simply unacceptable.  And it is not for subsistence, but rather to serve what is certainly a “luxury” market in restaurants of larger towns in the region.  More than anything else, these poachers are killing the goose that laid the golden egg, wiping out the very animals that people most want to see, and undercutting the country and especially local communities by robbing them of future ecotourism revenue.

He added: “In the last week Madagascar has taken important steps towards resolving its political crisis and move towards the restoration of democracy.  It is counterproductive of the international donor community to continue denying conservation and development funding because this only encourages poor governance of the country’s natural resources. The world community must act now to support the dedicated local wildlife authorities who are battling to prevent this globally important resource from being destroyed.”

The protection of Madagascar’s ecosystems and endangered wildlife is important for more than just its scientific value. The island’s 20 million inhabitants are hugely reliant on ecotourism – an industry that has collapsed since the coup, but can be quickly reinvigorated when the situation is resolved. The forests of Madagascar are also important in the battle against climate change and several demonstration projects run by CI on the island have shown how protection of standing forest and reforestation of degraded areas can bring significant benefits to local communities as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr Mittermeier concluded: “This is what happens when the global community attempts to punish a nation’s leaders by cutting virtually all aid. We need to rethink the global response to political upheavals in the future, and not to place the greatest burden on those most in need.”


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Photos available here: http://bit.ly/qaa79

B-roll footage available here: http://bit.ly/AUGUf