Madagascar is facing grave challenges about its environment.
As the world turns its attention toward the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) meeting in Paris, which began Monday and runs through May 4, scientists from across the world have joined forces to draw as much attention to another global biodiversity hotspot: Madagascar.
“Last chance for Madagascar’s biodiversity,” a newly published paper in Nature Sustainability, reflects the collaborative work of 16 researchers and their organizations in the hope that protecting the Indian Ocean island nation’s stunning flora and fauna will be a priority of its new administration.
Led by Dr. Julia Jones of the University of Bangor in the UK, the scientists joining her from Madagascar, Australia, the United States and Finland set five priorities for President Andry Rajoelina to pursue.
The island treasures – critical to the whole world – are threatened by illegal mining, logging and the capture of threatened species for the pet trade. The authors make clear that much of this illegal activity is linked to corruption, and that the social and economic insecurity harms both the people and planet.
Dr. Herizo Andrianandrasana, a leading Malagasy conservationist and the country’s first doctoral graduate in Oxford University’s 800-year history, said the destruction of biodiversity benefits the few who profit from rosewood trafficking, illegal mining in protected areas, or the prohibited trade in critically endangered tortoises.
“However, the costs are widespread and affect all Malagasy,” he warned.
Jones said that the country remains one of the poorest on the planet, with 40 percent of its children under age 5 stunted by malnutrition and more people in extreme poverty than nearly any other nation. “Conservation therefore needs to contribute to, and not detract from, national efforts targeting economic development,” she said. “It must not make situations worse for the rural poor who are so often marginalized in decision making.”
To that end, the group including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Madagascar and World Resources Institute, laid out its policy proposals for Rajoelina.
They included more investment in protected areas while strengthening the role of local communities in maintaining natural resources. They also appealed for new infrastructure development that protects biodiversity, and an end to environmental crime and corruption. The scientists also appealed for restoration efforts to curb the impacts of harvesting fuel wood.
“Since his election President Rajoelina has given positive indications that he recognizes the importance of Madagascar’s biodiversity,” said Jones, who added that he will have a copy of the research paper. The co-authors, and local and international scientists who care about Madagascar, say they’re ready to help the new president in saving Madagascar and its wildlife.
“The United States has the Statue of Liberty, France has the Eiffel Tower,” said co-author Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy of the University of Antananarivo. “For us in Madagascar it is our biodiversity (the product of millions of years of evolution), which is the unique heritage we are known for around the world. We cannot let these natural wonders, including 100 different types of lemur found nowhere else, disappear.”