Madagascar creates 1 million hectares of new protected areas

Posted: 8 May 2007

For the second time in two years, the Government of Madagascar has created more than 1 million hectares of new protected areas through a visionary policy to save the island-nation's remaining intact forests.

Panther chameleon
Panther chameleon
The panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) survives in the remaining fragments of eastern Madagascar's rain forests. Photo © CI/Russell A. Mittermeier
The 15 new protected areas comprise a total of 1,071,589 hectares (4,137 square miles), or almost the size of the US state of Connecticut, and include tropical rainforest, dry deciduous forest, lakes, rivers, limestone caves and other ecosystems that are home to threatened species such as the giant jumping rat (Hypogeomys antimena) and the pygmy mouse lemur (Microcebus myoxinus) - one of the world's smallest primates.

Madagascar has only a fraction of its original forest cover but remains one of the biologically richest places on Earth, with many plants and animals found nowhere else. The Global Conservation Fund (GCF) created by Conservation International (CI) recently contributed $1 million to the Madagascar Foundation for Protected Areas and Biodiversity and plans to contribute another $2 million this year to help implement and manage new protected areas created under President Marc Ravalomanana's Durban Vision announced at the 2003 World Parks Congress in South Africa.

President Ravalomanana pledged then to triple Madagascar's protected territory to a total of 6 million hectares (23,172 square miles). His government created 1 million hectares of new protected areas in December 2005, followed by the latest addition of another 1 million-plus hectares to increase Madagascar's total protected territory to 3.7 million hectares (14,289 square miles).

Baobab
Baobab
Six of the eight species of baobabs are from Madagascar. Photo © CI/Haroldo Castro
"Anyone who says conservation and development cannot work hand-in-hand is wrong," President Ravalomanana said. "It is important to stress the positive impact biodiversity conservation has on economic development and quality of life."

The new protected areas comprise three large tracts - the 499,598-hectare Fandriana-Vondrozo Forest Corridor in the southeast; the 276,836-hectare Mahavavy-Kinkony Wetlands Complex of lake, river and forest on the northwest coast; and the Menabe Central Forest, 125,000 hectares of dry deciduous forest in the southwest.

Additional protected areas include the remarkable marshlands of Lake Alaotra - home to the world's only reed-dwelling primate, the Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis) - as well as smaller tracts intended to prevent extinctions of local endemic species and create corridors linking other protected regions while preserving watersheds and forest burial grounds of local communities.

Many species threatened with extinction occur almost exclusively in the new protected areas, including one of the world's most threatened primates - the Critically Endangered greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus) - along with the crowned sifaka (Propithecus coronatus), golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus), Milne-Edwards' sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi), ten-striped mongoose (Mungotictis decemlineata), Madagascar sacred ibis (Threkiornis bernieri), Madagascar flat-shelled tortoise (Pyxis planicauda), and the Madagascar big-headed side-neck turtle (Erymnochelys madagascariensis).

Madagascar's programme is a model for governments of developing nations faced with the choice of exploiting natural resources for a one-time payoff or conserving natural assets so the economy and local communities benefit from them in perpetuity. Other nations opting for conservation and long-term benefits include Costa Rica and Liberia.

"Madagascar is, in the opinion of many, the highest priority biodiversity hotspot on Earth," CI President Russell A. Mittermeier said. "President Ravalomanana's commitment to ample protected area coverage is historic and of global significance. We hope that other leaders in Africa and elsewhere will follow his example and take similar decisive action."

Erosion
Erosion
Despite relatively good rainfall and soil rich in minerals, erosion on Madagascar is some of the worst in the world, the result of centuries of chronic deforestation. Photo © CI/Russell A. Mittermeier
The unique biodiversity of Madagascar has been under threat for decades from forest destruction, illegal wildlife trade and other problems. Researchers estimate that 90 per cent of the original forest cover has disappeared.

Organizations assisting the government's protected area programme include CI, Association Fanamby, the Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Missouri Botanical Garden, US Agency for International Development, Agence Française de Développement, Fonds Français pour l'Environnnement Mondial, Germany's KfW Development Bank, and the World Bank.

To date, GCF has provided $2.2 million to support protected area projects in Madagascar. GCF and the CI-administered Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund also have contributed significantly to the planning and design of new protected areas across the country.