Marijuana cultivation whittling away Madagascar’s largest connected forest
- Northern Madagascar contains the largest block of connected forest left in the country.
- Tsaratanana Reserve is supposed to protect a large portion of this forest. However, satellite data and imagery show Tsaratanana is being cleared at a rapid rate.
- Local officials say slash-and-burn agriculture for marijuana cultivation is to blame. The Madagascar National Parks agency helped organize military deployments to the Tsaratanana area in 2014 and 2017, and is planning another intervention this year.
- Scientists say that if this deforestation continues, it will fragment the reserve’s well-connected forests and threaten the animals that live there — many of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Evidence that fish flourish in a community-managed marine area offers hope
- New research from Madagascar offers a glimmer of hope that locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), an alternative to conventional government-managed marine protected areas (MPAs), could help secure the richness of the seas.
- A study done in-house by Blue Ventures, a nonprofit that co-manages the Velondriake LMMA with local communities, found that the fish biomass was almost two times more in no-take zones than sites where fishing was allowed after six years.
- However, fish targeted by fishers did not increase in amount, which some experts point out would indicate that the LMMA is actually not effective.
- Study authors say local communities are able to enforce restrictions because they feel a sense of ownership, which is essential for a conservation project in poorer countries to succeed.
As visitors vanish, Madagascar’s protected areas suffer a ‘devastating’ blow
- The country has lost half a billion dollars in much-needed tourism revenue since the start of 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to official estimates.
- Tourism contributes toward funding conservation efforts in Madagascar’s network of protected areas; those protected areas that rely heavily on foreign visitors have been hit worst by the crisis.
- There are also fears that international funding, the primary support for conservation efforts in Madagascar, could be jeopardized as big donors face economic crises in their home countries.
- Greater impoverishment could hurt communities living near the protected areas and lead to even more unsustainable exploitation of forests and natural resources.
A ‘crazy beast’ that coexisted with dinosaurs discovered from Madagascar
- Adalatherium hui, which in Malagasy and Greek translates into “crazy beast,” was discovered from the study of a 66 million-year-old fossil from Madagascar.
- An early mammal species, it has a peculiar anatomy and a mosaic of features that is distinct from other mammals, from its peculiar teeth to its curved leg bones.
- It is also unusually large, the size of a house cat, compared to other mammals that coexisted with dinosaurs, which were no bigger than present-day mice.
- The researchers believe it is key to understanding the early evolution of mammals in the southern hemisphere.
COVID-19 will hurt Madagascar’s conservation funding: Q&A with Minister Vahinala Raharinirina
- There is growing concern that the COVID-19 crisis will enfeeble conservation efforts across the globe, particularly in developing countries.
- The concern is acute for Madagascar, one of the poorest nations in the world, which relies heavily on foreign funds to implement conservation programs.
- The disappearance of tourism revenue in the short term and the possible drying up of international funding and deepening impoverishment in the coming months and years could grievously endanger Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, Madagascar’s environment minister told Mongabay.
Madagascar’s president promotes unproven herbal cure for COVID-19
- Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, unveiled an unproven cure for COVID-19 that is derived from a plant, Artemisia annua.
- His comments at a launch of the herbal remedy on April 20 suggested that the remedy, called COVID-ORGANICS, would act both as a cure and a vaccine.
- No evidence from any clinical trials was shared to back up the claims.
- The World Health Organization did not respond to Mongabay’s questions about COVID-ORGANICS, but the agency has warned against the spread of misinformation and purported miracle cures.
Ring-tailed lemurs ‘stink flirt’ (it’s not as bad as it sounds)
- During the mating season, male ring-tailed lemurs rub secretions from glands on their wrists onto their tails and wave them at female lemurs.
- These chemical secretions, identified by researchers at the University of Tokyo, have emerged as the first pheromone candidates to be identified in a primate.
- Pheromones, chemical compounds that animals secrete, can signal more than sexual availability; they can also communicate danger or mark trails.
- For the ring-tailed lemur secretions be recognized as real sex pheromones, the scientists will have to show that they are used to communicate only within the species and that they influence mating behavior.
In Madagascar, revived environmental crime hotline leads to tortoise bust
- A Malagasy civil society group recently relaunched a hotline for people to report environmental crimes while avoiding the reprisals that often follow when they make such reports to the authorities.
- The group hired four environmental lawyers to answer the phones and investigate the cases, referring some to government agencies for enforcement.
- An anonymous caller told hotline lawyers about a classified ad for endangered tortoises in a Malagasy newspaper. The call led to the arrest in March of the seller, a government worker who is now in prison awaiting trial.
- Many governments have online and telephone reporting options for environmental and wildlife crimes. However, in countries with corrupt institutions and weak law enforcement, NGOs and civil society groups often run the hotlines.
National parks in Africa shutter over COVID-19 threat to great apes
- Wildlife authorities in some parts of Africa have effectively locked down parks that are home to gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, amid concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic could make the jump to great apes.
- Humans and great apes share more than 95% of the same genetic material, and are susceptible to many of the same infectious diseases, ranging from respiratory ailments to Ebola.
- Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo shut its doors to tourists this week, while in Rwanda all parks hosting gorillas and chimpanzees were also shut; Uganda is considering doing the same, with its parks de facto closed because of a drop in tourist arrivals.
- Even if the apes avoid COVID-19, the loss of tourism revenue for the parks and potential loss of income for people who work to protect these species could cause enduring damage to conservation efforts, experts say.
Three new species of chameleons emerge from centuries-old entanglement
- Three new species of soft-nosed chameleons endemic to Madagascar were described in a recent paper in Vertebrate Zoology.
- Calumma emelinae from the east coast of Madagascar, C. tjiasmantoi from the southeast, and C. ratnasariae from the north officially joined the ranks of more than 90 species of chameleon that are endemic to Madagascar.
- A co-author described them as “tiny chameleons with funny noses,” because of the horn-like rostral appendage they sport.
- The discovery of distinct species within the species complex calls for the re-evaluation of their conservation status, according to the authors of the study.
Madagascar off pace to meet Aichi targets, which is bad news for the world
- The unique biodiversity of the world’s oldest island, including its 110 lemur species, remains as imperiled as ever.
- Though the country has tripled the terrestrial area under protection since 2003, the quality of the protection is inadequate.
- Madagascar is lagging in the creation of marine protected areas with less than 1% of its total marine area of 1.2 million km2 (433,000 mi2) currently safeguarded under national law.
- Tourism could boost conservation efforts in important biodiversity areas, but it calls for greater investment from the government and private players.
Marginalized voices from resource conflicts enter the mainstream via video
- The “Seeing Conflicts at the Margins” project lets communities embroiled in resource conflicts in Kenya and Madagascar share their experiences by shooting videos.
- A national launch for the videos produced under the project, funded by the U.K. government, took place at the residence of the U.K. ambassador to Madagascar on Feb. 18 in Antananarivo.
- One of the videos, shot in Antsotso village, deals with the effects of a local forest being protected by a mining company owned by mining giant Rio Tinto.
- All the videos had been screened for members of the participating communities before the national launch.
Raze here, save there: Do biodiversity offsets work for people or ecosystems?
- The Bemangidy-Ivohibe biodiversity offset was created in southeastern Madagascar by QMM, a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto, to make up for the destruction of highly threatened littoral forests as a result of mining activity.
- While the rights of people directly displaced by development projects like mines are recognized to some degree, those of communities affected by biodiversity offsets, of which there are more than 13,000 worldwide, remain unclear.
- Critics say QMM fortified the forest and restricted villagers’ access to essential resources, pushing them toward starvation. The company says it has saved the forest from certain destruction at the hands of local people.
- The justification for offsets — biodiversity gains — are also hard to document, especially in the case of Bemangidy-Ivohibe which is a lowland humid forest, a different landscape from the littoral forest being razed by QMM.
Lucky ducks: Once thought extinct, rare pochards take steps toward recovery
- 12 Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) ducklings were born in the wild in November.
- Conservationists had introduced 21 young adult pochards to Lake Sofia in northern Madagascar in December 2018, but did not expect them to reproduce so quickly.
- The pochard was once common in Madagascar’s highlands, but the population declined rapidly in the mid-20th century. Only a single pochard was spotted from 1970 until 2006.
- The new crop of ducklings marks a victory for conservation groups that have been working to save the species since then. However, the pochard’s future remains precarious due in part to a lack of food, with its total population measurable in the dozens.
Madagascar launches massive planting drive, eyes 60 million trees
- Madagascar launched a national drive on Jan. 19 that aims to plant 60 million trees in the coming months to mark 60 years of independence, and in the hope of restoring the island’s forests.
- Madagascar, the oldest island in the world and the fourth-largest, is home to an astounding range of plant and animal life.
- Between 2001 and 2018, it lost about one-fifth of its tree cover, according to Global Forest Watch, driven primarily by the expansion of shifting agriculture.
- Experts say the real challenge for the campaign is in safeguarding the young trees by weaning the Malagasy people away from unsustainable agricultural practices and reducing their dependence on wood for charcoal.
Concerns about radioactive contamination dog Rio Tinto’s Madagascar mine
- The Rio Tinto-owned QMM mine in southeast Madagascar could be polluting water sources in the region with radioactive contaminants, activists say.
- Elevated background levels of radioactive uranium and thorium, and lead in water bodies near the mine, are most likely a result of mining activity, according to new analysis released by the Andrew Lees Trust UK.
- The company has refuted claims that it is responsible for high radiation levels in the environment, attributing them instead to the natural sources of radioactivity in the area.
- The lack of agreement about the existence and nature of the contamination means there is no clarity about remedial measures and who is responsible for providing safe drinking water to about 15,000 local people whose water sources could have been compromised.
Global consumer demands fuel the extinction crisis facing the world’s primates
- Alejandro Estrada of the Institute of Biology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Paul A. Garber of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois-Urbana argue that human consumption patterns are driving primates to the brink of extinction.
- Commodity production, extraction, and consumption are taking a heavy toll on key primates habitats around the world.
- This post is a guest analysis. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
Photos: Top 15 new species of 2019
- In 2019, Mongabay covered several announcements of new-to-science species.
- The “discovery” of a new-to-science species is always an awe-inspiring bit of news; the outcome of dogged perseverance, months or years of field surveys, and long periods of sifting through hundreds of museum records.
- In no particular order, we present our 15 top picks.
Madagascar: Is NGO-led conservation too conservative to conserve much?
- International environmental NGOs working in Madagascar assume a relatively narrow role of supporting local conservation and development in line with government strategy.
- The nature of the NGOs’ legal relationship with the Malagasy government, which has close ties to the extractive industries, and the restrictions that come with international funding make it difficult for them to take a broader role or push for systemic environmental reforms.
- The result, some critics say, is that international NGOs fail to address the country’s most serious conservation challenges.
- Homegrown civil society groups have more room to operate in Madagascar and do some of the most important conservation work.
Tree-planting programs turn to tech solutions to track effectiveness
- Governments and organizations around the world have carried out massive tree-planting initiatives, but to date there’s been no reliable way to track how effective these programs have been.
- Now, some groups are embracing cutting-edge technology solutions such as QR codes, drone surveillance and blockchain to keep tabs on every tree planted.
- But they also recognize the importance of bringing local communities on board to improve the effectiveness of these efforts, and the need for old-fashioned field surveys to complement the high-tech monitoring methods.
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