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Political unrest adds to the problems facing Madagascar’s rich and varied wildlife.

Madagascar’s unique but gravely threatened fauna, including rare chameleons, birds and lemurs, is in even greater danger due to political unrest spreading to reserves and national parks. Months of unrest led to a coup and the breakdown of law and order in January of this year. Criminal networks seized the opportunity to plunder national parks, including World Heritage Sites Marojejy and Masoala, for precious hardwoods.

Marojejy was forced to close in March, raising concern among conservationists for one of the world’s most endangered primates, the silky sifaka, which is found only in the area.

Eleven NGOs, including WWF and Conservation International, issued a joint plea to stop the “deplorable acts”, which also include intensified wildlife smuggling, illegal mining and slash-and-burn agriculture in protected areas. Park rangers are abandoning their posts in fear.

Many governments are advising against travel to Madagascar, and the £275m tourism industry that largely funds conservation in the country has ground to a halt. Hotels have shut and people employed in tourism have been forced to turn to more desperate means of earning money.

“Conservation organisations are becoming less efficient due to lack of funding and increasing anarchy,” said Dr Rainer Dolch of Association Mitsinjo, which runs two reserves on the island.

The damage may be lasting. “Some species on the brink of extinction could be pushed over the edge,” said Hilary Bradt, an expert on Madagascar’s wildlife. Yet she remains hopeful: “Once political stability is restored, tourism will pick up.”
How you can help

  • Put pressure on the UK to help resolve the situation by signing the petition at:
  • Write to your MP and/or MEP. A sample letter and more information can be found at:
  • Travel to Madagascar. The FCO has lifted its warning on travel to the country (but do check its website) and the tourist board is offering a free 30-day visa.

Published in BBC Wildlife magazine, June 2009.