Madagascar gets biggest protected area
August 17, 2012

Leaf-tailed gecko in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Madagascar officially designated its largest protected area in a region renowned for its tropical rainforests and rich diversity of wildlife, including 20 species of lemurs, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a group that was instrumental in establishing the park.

Makira Natural Park covers some 372,470 hectares (1,438 square miles) — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island — of forest in northeastern Madagascar, the most biodiverse part of the island nation. Makira was granted temporary park status in 2005 but is now officially designated as a protected area.

Management of Makira will be partially funded by the sale of carbon credits under the REDD+ (Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program, a global framework that aims to compensate tropical countries for protecting their forests. The establishment of Makira will avoid an estimated 31 million tons of carbon emissions over 30 years. Half the proceeds from the sale of carbon offsets are returned to local communities living in and around the protected area.

Makira. Courtesy of Google Earth.

Christopher Holmes, Director of WCS’s Madagascar Program, said Makira could become a model for conservation projects elsewhere.

“Not only does Makira protect the largest remaining tract of the island’s rainforest, but it is a demonstration of a new model for integrated conservation in Madagascar where local communities – de facto stewards of the forest resources – become partners with the State in protected area management.”

Panther chameleon near Makira. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Makira is a significant contribution towards Madagascar's Durban Vision, which was laid out in 2003 to set aside 10 percent of the island's land mass in protected areas. Makira lies across Antongil Bay from Masoala National Park, another key conservation priority. However in recent years both parks have suffered from incursions by illegal loggers seeking rosewood and ebony (Gibson Guitar was recently busted trafficking in Madagascar ebony). Logging has been associated with a rise in the commercial bushmeat trade. Lemurs are particularly targeted in some areas.

Outside of the northeast, Madagascar's forests are diminishing due to clearing for subsistence agriculture and cattle grazing. On drier parts of the island, vast swathes of endemic forest have been chopped down for charcoal production. Mining is also have an impact in some areas. Most of Madagascar's population is desperately poor, although communities are generally be better off near protected areas where ecotourism creates demand for guides, lodging, and other services. Tourism accounts for more than 6 percent of the economy.

Fossa in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler


Separated from mainland Africa for some 160 million years, 80% of Madagascar's native flora and fauna are unique. While the island is most famous for its lemurs, it is also home to a variety of other animals, including the fossa, a carnivorous mammal that looks like a cross between a puma and a dog but is closely related to the mongoose; an otter-like tenrec; hundreds of species of frogs; and the world's richest assemblage of chameleons.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur in Madagascar. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Green Climbing Mantella (Mantella laevigata)

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CITATION: (August 17, 2012). Madagascar gets biggest protected area.

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