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Timber smuggling continues in Madagascar

Rosewood rainforest of Madagascar

Stocks of rosewood illegally harvested during in the aftermath of Madagascar’s 2009 coup are being steadily smuggled off the Indian Ocean island, undermining efforts to find a legal solution to deal with the timber, reports a paper published in the journal MADAGASCAR CONSERVATION & DEVELOPMENT.

According to the paper — authored by Patrick O. Waeber of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich and Lucienne Wilmé of the Missouri Botanical Garden — large volumes of rosewood logs have disappeared from depots in Northeast Madagascar in recent months. The logs are smuggled by small boats to larger ships waiting offshore.

“During the last year, a new phenomenon has emerged: inventoried rosewood logs have slowly but regularly been ferreted out of the depots they were stored in,” they write. “During the early months of 2013, traffickers from Maroantsetra visited the Masoala peninsula and generously offered 1 million Malagasy Ariary [$450] per household to turn a blind eye regarding any rosewood. Simultaneously, large vessels positioned just too far to be seen from any shore, were collecting logs transferred to them at night in smaller boats. Encouraged by the incredulous ineptitude on the part of the local legal authorities, this process has been ongoing, even during daylight hours, with the ‘mother ships’ eventually even clearly visible from the shores. The timber stocks in the known depots have almost been completely cleared out by now.”

The million dollar rosewood bed.

Rosewood exports from Madagascar have been officially banned since 2010. Between then and 2012, traders sitting on stockpiles estimated at 500,000 tons of rosewood logs have put considerable pressure on authorities to lift the ban. But since then, Waeber and Wilmé note, the issue has gone “mysteriously silent”. The reason, they argue, is the rosewood stocks have been largely moved offshore.

Illegal rosewood logging exploded in Northeastern Madagascar following the 2009 coup that displaced democratically elected leader Marc Ravalomanana. During the carnage, the island’s most biodiverse forests — old-growth rainforests — were ransacked. Logging was also associated with expansion of the commercial bushmeat trade, where lemurs and other endangered species are poached for sale in restaurants.

Most of Madagascar’s rosewood has gone to China where it is used in high-end furniture.

The black-and-white ruffed lemur inhabits forests where rosewood logging took place in 2009-2010

CITATION: Waeber and Wilmé. Madagascar rich and intransparent. MADAGASCAR CONSERVATION & DEVELOPMENT VOLUME 8 | ISSUE 2 — NOVEMBER 2013 PAGE 52

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