Madagascar's forests under threat from illegal timber tradeTags: madagascar raubbau conflict corruption deforestation illegal logging loggers
The government of Madagascar has been accused by conservation groups of allowing the illegal trade in precious wood to flourish.
Environmental campaigners claim that an executive decree issued last month legalising the export of raw hardwood, including rosewood and ebony, has given free rein to criminal gangs who fell endangered trees to sell on the international market.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Conservation International (CI) have signed a statement calling for the authorisation to be revoked in order to halt the “destruction of Madagascar’s natural resources and biodiversity”.
According to the WWF, criminal syndicates have felled 7,000 cubic metres of rosewood a month since the start of the year.
The wood, which is used around the world as a veneer and in the construction of guitars, sells for around $5,000 (£3,100) per cubic metre.
The government of Madagascar has been struggling to raise finance since the country’s political crisis in January, in which current president Andry Rajoelina deposed the sitting administration led by Marc Ravalomanana.
This was condemned as a coup by many Western leaders. Millions of dollars in foreign aid have been withdrawn and a decline in the country’s lucrative $390 million-a-year tourism industry has taken place as a result.
The government argues that the lifting of the ban on timber exports is a temporary measure, allowing for trees uprooted by cyclones that hit the island last year to be removed.
Under the terms of the decree, 13 operators have been granted permission to ship 25 containers of timber each, with a 72 million ariary (£22,500) tax levied on each container.
But according to Ndranto Razakamanarina, the head of local environmental group Voahary Gasy (Madagascan Nature) and a former government timber official, the legalisation of wood exports has provided illegal timber traders with an opportunity to shift vast stockpiles of timber that has already been felled.
“There have always been stocks piled up everywhere,” he said. “These operators hide them, and then as soon as there’s an opportunity they bribe the government and produce their ‘stocks’.
“Bizarrely, every time there’s a cyclone, the trees that are affected are always precious wood. Yet they are the hardest and logically the ones that should fall last.”
The forests of Madagascar are essential to the island’s extraordinary biodiversity. Over 100 species of ebony and 47 species of rosewood that are found on Madagascar are unique to the island.
The wide variety of wildlife stems from the island’s separation from Africa over 160 million years ago, since which time ecosystems have evolved that are distinct from that found on the African continent.
In addition, its topography and climate is highly varied, with rainforests along the eastern coast, dry forests in the west, mountains in the north and desert in the south.
Around 68 per cent of its plant life, 92 per cent of its reptiles and 98 per cent of its land mammals are not found naturally anywhere else on Earth. The latter group includes the lemur, whose 50 sub-species are native to the island.
However, deforestation, intensive agriculture and population growth have endangered much of the island’s wildlife.
Just a tenth of the lemur’s rainforest habitat remains today, and it is feared that it and the chameleon could become extinct by 2100.
The aye-aye, considered one of the world’s most evolutionarily distinct animals, is also in danger of being driven to extinction.
The WWF said it feared more export licences would be granted by the government in an attempt to raise cash. It wants rosewood to be registered as an endangered species.
“Preliminary research shows rosewood is under extreme pressure,” said Niall O’Connor, head of WWF’s Indian Ocean region office.
“If it was registered as endangered then much tighter regulation would be required for both export and import.”
By Jonathan Liew, © (www.telegraph.co.uk) 12/10/2009
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