Combatting Deforestation in Madagascar
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The world’s fourth largest island -- Madagascar -- sits off the southeast coast of Africa. About 160 million years ago, Madagascar split off from the rest of the continent, allowing the island to develop its own distinct ecosystems and house species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Around 92 percent of its mammals, 89 percent of its plant life, and 95 percent of its reptiles are only found in Madagascar.
Protecting these and other species from the consequences of human activities is incredibly important; once they’re gone from Madagascar, they’re gone forever. Let’s take a look at some of the spectacular flora and fauna you can find on the island.
Important Endemic Species of Madagascar
Lemurs are only found in Madagascar and some very small neighboring islands. About 140 million years after Madagascar split off from the rest of the continent, monkeys arrived on the scene. These intelligent primates drove the remaining lemur populations on the continent into extinction, but the lemurs on Madagascar survived due to their island isolation.
Today about 110 species live on the island. They share many characteristics with monkeys, such as forming social groups, eating fruit and vegetation, and being active during daytime. Humans reached Madagascar about 2,000 years ago and quickly caused the extinction of at least 15 species. Almost every species of lemur is considered endangered today, mostly due to deforestation and hunting.
During an expedition in North Madagascar, a team of scientists recently discovered what they believe is the smallest reptile in the world. The body of a male brookesia nana -- as called the nano-chameleon -- measures about 13.5 mm long. It is the smallest male reptile species out of 11,500 known non-avian reptiles. A male non-chameleon can sit comfortably on the tip of your finger.
Mangroves cover about 25 percent of Madagascar’s coastline. They protect the coasts from storm surges and soil erosion while filtering water before it runs off into the ocean. The trees also provide habitat for many endemic species, including lemurs, and capture large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, about 20 percent of Madagascar’s mangrove tree habitats have been deforested for timber, charcoal production, and agriculture.
Causes of Deforestation in Madagascar
Deforestation, along with other dangers like hunting, is threatening many plant and animal species with extinction. One of the most well-known now-extinct species -- the dodo bird -- once called Madagascar home. Many organizations are working hard to protect land from deforestation, however only about ten percent of Madagascar’s land and sea are officially protected.
Due to political instability and poor management, the timber industry in Madagascar largely goes unchecked. Illegal logging is all too common. Endemic species like rosewood and ebony are extremely popular, especially in Asia. This demand has caused rosewood to become an endangered species.
Many farmers have been forced to harvest charcoal in the face of extreme drought. Forests are cut down at alarming rates, worsening soil erosion and destroying habitats. When the charcoal is burned, the carbon that was once stored in the trees is released into atmosphere, worsening climate change.
Slash and burn agriculture, also known as tavy, is a farming technique that relies on cutting small patches of forest, burning the ground, and then planting rice. After harvesting the rice, the field should be left fallow for several years, allowing the forest to grow back. If this process is done correctly and in small areas, it can be an effective form of subsistence agriculture that does not do much damage to the forest.
Unfortunately, Madagascar is an extremely impoverished country, with 75 percent of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. Farmers have to employ techniques to increase their yield that damage the environment. Subsistence farmers should not be blamed for the damage they do for their own survival; they should be given other opportunities to make a living in a way that protects the ecosystems that they love and rely on.