Forest fires are blazing across Madagascar, including in its protected areas, home to some of the world’s rarest species, from critically endangered lemurs to hundreds of endemic snails.In Manombo Special Reserve, known for sheltering more than 50 species of snails found nowhere else on Earth, woodland the size of 800 Olympic swimming pools went up in smoke last month.In nearby Befotaka-Midongy National Park, one of the largest stretches of evergreen forest in Madagascar, more than 1,000 fires were reported this year.A heated debate has erupted online about the fires, with some activists criticizing the environment ministry, while the ministry says the blame is shared by NGOs that manage most of the country’s protected areas. A long and intense fire season is exacting a grim toll across Madagascar. At its onset in May, a wave of fires ate into the dry forests that line the island’s western coast, one of the world’s most threatened biomes. In the past two months, the rainforests fringing the eastern coast have gone up in flames. “This year, the fire points in Madagascar are very numerous bush fires, forest fires, urban fires,” said Haingosoa Hortençia, a national coordinator for the Green Party, who until recently worked at the environment ministry, or MEDD. “There are fires all over the twenty-two regions of Madagascar.” An interactive map from Global Forest Watch displaying fire alerts recorded by NASA satellites from September 1 to December 1 this year. In the period from May to November, 50,000 more fire alerts were recorded this year compared to last year, a 17% rise, as per NASA satellite data analyzed by the forest mapping platform Global Forest Watch (GFW). In the past three months alone Madagascar has reported nearly 200,000 fire alerts. Hortençia blamed the environment minister’s “negligence, ignorance and bad governance,” for the situation, saying they should have had a longer-term strategy to fight the fires and been more responsive to reports from the ground. The minister contests these claims. Fire alerts recorded by NASA satellites from May 1 to Aug 1. 2020/ Global Forest Watch. Fire alerts recorded by NASA satellites from September 1 to December 1. 2020/ Global Forest Watch. One could fit 16 Madagascar-sized islands into the U.S. and still have room to spare. Yet, the African nation is estimated to host three times as many snail species as the entire continental U.S. When fires raged in the heart of Manombo Special Reserve, some of these slow-moving mollusks likely did not escape the flames. The protected area alone hosts more than 50 species of snails. “Snails are very, very bad at escaping rapidly, their only method of traveling is crawling,” said John Slapcinsky, who manages the mollusks collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Multiple sources confirmed to Mongabay that about 100 hectares (250 acres) in Manombo Special Reserve in southeastern Madagascar, woodland the size of 800 Olympic swimming pools, went up in smoke last month.