Armed gangs are logging rosewood and other valuable hardwoods from Marojejy and Masoala parks in Madagascar following abandonment of posts by rangers in the midst of the island nation’s political crisis, reports marojejy.com and local sources.
“It is with great sadness that we report the temporary closure of Marojejy National Park to tourism,” stated the marojejy.com web site. “The closure was deemed necessary by park management due to the lawlessness that has descended over the SAVA region during this time of political unrest in Madagascar, and the resultant looting and destruction which is currently occurring within the park. In particular, gangs of armed men (led primarily by foreign profiteers in conjunction with the rich local mafia) are plundering the rainforests of Marojejy for the extremely valuable rosewood that grows there.”
Illegal logging of rosewood, ebonies, and other hardwoods has emerged as one of the primary drivers of forest degradation in northeastern Madagascar in recent years but, as noted by marojejy.com, the situation has been exacerbated by the political crisis that has led rangers and park officials in some areas to abandon their posts. Timber poachers and other interests are now moving aggressively into protected areas to take advantage of the opportunity according to a local source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Rainforest in Masoala.
“Turmoil is going to last for months — no more rules, no more laws, no more police or control, just weapons and people starved for money or by greed,” said the source. “2000 to 3000 people went to Masoala to harvest rosewood.”
The source notes that poachers are coming in from the town of Antalaha on the side of Masoala, an expanse of rainforest renowned for its biological diversity, opposite from the big park headquarters. “The big businessmen are all in Antalaha. This is where the timber goes for export.”
“Foreign traders have arrived in local towns seeking to take advantage of the political crisis that has weakened park protection and enforcement,” the source continued. “This is the worst, by far, that has happened to the park in recent years. The situation is worse than desperate.”
Marojejy.com says the crisis has “serious implications” on several fronts:
The crisis in Marojejy has serious implications on several fronts. First, of course, is the extremely detrimental impact it is having on the park’s unique flora and fauna. While old-growth rosewood trees may be the primary objective of the armed gangs, such destructive, unregulated use of the forest will certainly have an adverse effect on everything else in the park. Most worrisome is the well-being of the highly endangered Silky Sifaka, a lemur found only in the rainforests of Marojejy and the surrounding area.
But the crisis is also having a devastating effect outside the boundaries of the park itself. With armed militia descending on local villages and death threats being issued, people live in fear; communities are divided, and families are pitted one against the other. Many local people who depend on tourism – guides, porters, shopkeepers, hotel and restaurant personnel – now live in limbo. With no other means of support, some turn to the lucrative rosewood trade.
Illegal logging in Masoala.
The political crisis in Madagascar — brought on by a conflict between former president Marc Ravalomanana and interim president Andry Rajoelina, who took power in a bloodless coup last week — has brought to a near standstill Madagascar’s $400-million-a-year tourism industry. A spate of countries, including Britain and the United States, have warned travelers against visiting the country.
“The 400 million dollar tourism industry has just been leveled, and that means trouble ahead for the forests of Madagascar,” said a local conservationist. “This coup d’etat undermines everything we have worked for for 30 years.”
Conservation in Madagascar is highly dependent on income from tourism. Half of park entrance fees are returned to communities living in and around protected areas. Without this source of income, locals in some areas may be forced to turn to conservation areas for timber, fuelwood, and agricultural land as is beginning with criminal syndicates in Marojejy and Masoala.
Marojejy.com says that support for conservation in Madagascar is “more important than ever during this period of turmoil”.
“While you might not be able to visit some of these beautiful areas right now, we hope you will not forget them, and that you will continue to work for their preservation.”