Conservation news

Audio: A rare earth mine in Madagascar triggers concerns for locals and lemurs

On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we discuss a proposed rare earth mining project in Madagascar that worries both lemurs and locals, and we also speak with a researcher who uses acoustic ecology techniques to assess the success of wetland rewetting programs in Australia and shares with us recordings of some of the rare visitors she’s documented, listen here:


Our first guest is Eddie Carver, a Mongabay contributor based in Madagascar who recently wrote a report about a foreign-owned company called Tantalum Rare Earth Malagasy (TREM) that is hoping to mine rare earth elements in Madagascar’s Ampasindava peninsula, a highly biodiverse region that is home to numerous iconic lemur species. Rare earth elements are used in a range of electronic devices and computers, and the deposit in Madagascar’s Ampasindava peninsula is expected to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Part of the Ampasindava peninsula was granted protected status in 2015 — but only after TREM successfully lobbied to reduce the size of the protected area in order to safeguard the boundaries of its mining concession. We speak with Carver about the risks of mining for rare earth elements, how the mine might impact wildlife like the endemic lemur species that are found in Madagascar and nowhere else on Earth, the complicated history of TREM and its ownership of the mine, and how villagers in communities that have already been impacted by TREM’s exploratory efforts view the mining project.

Our second guest is Jo Wood, an Environmental Water Project Officer with the Goulburn Broken Catchment Authority in Victoria, Australia. This Field Notes segment is particularly interesting because we’ve interviewed a number of researchers on this podcast who use bioacoustics to study changes to the environment in order to inform conservation measures, but Wood is the first one we’ve spoken with who uses bioacoustics specifically to monitor the effectiveness of a particular conservation intervention that’s already been deployed.

Wood plays for us the calls of a number of indicator species whose presence, or lack thereof, helps signal the overall health of the wetlands ecosystems where she works.

Here’s this episode’s top news:

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An endangered Sambirano mouse lemur (Microcebus sambiranensis), which is found only in two or three small populations in northwest Madagascar, including one on the Ampasindava peninsula. Photo by Leslie Wilmet.

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001