Illegal logging is a serious problem in Madagascar.
Although lemurs are cherished around the world, they face a multitude of threats: poaching for use as bushmeat, capture for the pet trade, and arguably the most important - deforestation and habitat loss. Loss of habitat occurs because of illegal logging, mining operations of all types, slash and burn agriculture and charcoal production. Over the approximately 2000 years that humans have been living on the island of Madagascar, 80% of the lemur’s habitat has been lost (WWF). What can be done by the average person in North America to help preserve lemur habitat?
Illegal logging is a serious problem in Madagascar as international demand for rosewood and ebony motivates the “rosewood mafia” to bribe government officials to look the other way as they decimate the forests. Although demand for rosewood and ebony mostly comes from China, there has been demand in North America too. As recently as 2012, Gibson guitars was reprimanded for importing rosewood illegally and ordered to pay a large fine. Illegal importation of rosewood is the world’s most costly wildlife crime (United Nations) and demand for this precious wood is destroying lemur habitat. One thing we can do in North America is demand that our products, such as guitars which require a small amount of rosewood, use wood that is sustainably sourced. Guitars can also be made without rosewood and this may be the wisest choice for consumers.
Large scale, international mining operations occur throughout Madagascar, reducing the country’s already diminished forest cover. Artisanal mining operations also occur with very poor people trying to pound a living out of the hard rocks. When gold is thought to exist in an area, people flock to that spot, putting up housing by cutting down the trees in the area.International mining has certainly provided an economic benefit to Madagascar. For example, the Malagasy government owns a 20 percent share in one of the biggest mining operations in the world, Rio Tinto. Even Madagascar’s money has positive images of mining operations, showing the economic significance of this part of the economy.
Although there is an economic benefit, it comes at the cost of the environment. When primary forest is destroyed it can not be returned to it’s natural state for a lifetime, because old growth trees take so long to grow to maturity. Some lemurs rely on the oldest, tallest trees for their sleeping sites and are unable to populate regrown forests.
Slash and Burn
When you travel across the countryside in Madagascar at night it is remarkable to see the hillsides set alight in flames. This is due to the need for charcoal to cook food as well as the need for agricultural land, as slash and burn agriculture is relied upon in Madagascar. Slash and burn agriculture is known as ‘Tavy’ in Madagascar. Very poor farmers rely on burning forest areas to create land for agriculture. When a forest is protected, the farmers must find new ways to make a living. GERP is a research group with the objective of protecting lemurs. They hire local people in the area of the forest that is now protected to act as guides to eco-tourists. One thing that we can do in North America is support GERP financially with donations. Contact GERP at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about donating. As Jonah Rasimbazafy (the leader of GERP) says is a common saying in Madagascar, ‘An empty stomach has no ears’, showing that people need to be able to make a living before they can consider helping lemurs.
When people in Madagascar are living in poverty and need wood for charcoal to cook their meals, preserving the habitat of the lemurs is not a primary concern. In Madagascar, the most common way to cook meals is over a simple stove which burns charcoal to cook. Charcoal requires that the forest is burned down first to produce the charcoal to burn in cooking. But many organizations have started to offer cleaner options for cook stoves. One is a Swiss-Madagascar organization called ADES (Association pour le Développement de l’Energy Solaire) which produces energy efficient and solar stoves. Using these stoves, you only have to use half as much wood or charcoal as conventional stoves. The stoves also produce much less smoke than regular stoves so that families don’t have to breath in dangerous fumes from the fire. You can support ADES by visiting their website and making a donation.
There is no question that Madagascar’s lemurs need our help. The question is what is the best way to do this. We have offered three solutions from not purchasing products containing rosewood, to supporting the organizations doing good work in Madagascar: GERP and ADES. Another solution is to spread the word of what you have learned. If everyone who reads this article lets one other person know about the plight of lemurs we can raise awareness.