Madagascar – Not the Fun Side of the Island

164 - LemursWhen you think of Madagascar what do you think of ?

Perhaps its thick, dense tropical jungles inhabited by unique wildlife – especially lemurs, either that, or the Dreamworks cartoon film – also with lemurs.

Unfortunately, these days Madagascar is looking a bit different.

Since the first arrival of humans, Madagascar has lost over 90% of its original forest cover, and seen the extinction of many of its original native species, including the enormous elephant bird (extinct by the late 1600′s) and numerous species of giant lemur.

It is estimated around half of this deforestation has occurred since the 1950′s and is continuing today, fueled not only by traditional slash and burn methods of farming, but also by the continued expansion of beef cattle grazing, illegal logging, and clearance for mining and coffee production. All these practices are exacerbated by Madagascar’s extreme poverty and governmental corruption.

Madagascar is home to almost 100 different species of lemur – the iconic primates found nowhere else in the world, almost all species now being classified as endangered. Though lemurs have been legally protected for decades, many local people, desperate for income, continue to hunt them for sale as bushmeat, but it is the continuing destruction of their habitat that is driving them ever closer to extinction.

Solutions are hard to come by.

As in all such circumstances more regulatory protection and stricter controls can only provide a temporary solution. If we want our future world to contain lemurs living in the wild, we will have to find a way to ensure rural Madagascan’s are able to improve their standard of living and have achievable life aspirations without having to destroy their natural environment. Fair trade, debt relief, targeted aid and encouraging political reform will all play a part.

It’s estimated that over 400 million people have seen the Dreamworks Madagascar films, but only a tiny proportion are probably aware of the extent of the danger faced by lemurs and Madagascar’s forests – something you might want to mention the next time the films are repeated on TV.

Photo by Cornelliuscz, via Flickr

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