Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sad Time for Madagascar - Native Home for All Lemurs

Madagascar, native home for all lemurs, is facing challenging political times.

Last week, tensions and frustrations in Madagascar sadly boiled over when peaceful demonstrations degenerated into riots and looting in the capital of Anatananarivo (Tana), as well as in some provincial capitols. The mayor of Tana, Andry Rajoelina, (nicknamed TGV for the French high-speed trains,) has emerged as the leader of an opposition movement and has declared himself :in charge" of the country. For the moment, there is a power standoff between Mr. Rajoelina and the president, Marc Ravalomanana.

The source of the discontent is the worsening economy in Madagascar, despite much recent and planned foreign investment. The mining sector has been the recipient of much of the investment, and a plan to lease out massive tracts of agricultural land to South Korea has particularly embittered public opinion. Most Malagasy people, especially at the lower end of the economic scale, feel that their buying power is only shrinking, despite the investments.

The primary targets of the looting around the country were enterprises owned by president Pavalomanana, who is also a businessman. Those include the MAGRO and Tiko stores and warehouses which contain mostly dairy products and other food stuffs. In many instances, the looting spread to other businesses, including electronic stores, furniture stores, and other grocery stores and markets.

The Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) office in the east coast city of Tamatave or Toamasina narrowly missed becoming collateral damage when a MAGRO warehouse store was attacked and looted in the night of 3 Feb. The MFG office is directly across the street from the MAGRO, as is MFG Project Manager An Bollen's house. An is safe and hanging in there and has moved temporarily to a more prudent location. As a reminder, the Duke Lemur Center is a founding and managing member of the MFG consortium which at present includes 26 members at different levels. The MFG has an ongoing history of more that 20 years of conservation work in the Tamatave area.

The MFG projects at Ivoloina and Betampona are so far not directly impacted by violence or looting, as they are 12km and 40km out of town, respectively. However, staff are having difficulty finding enough food for the protected lemurs at Ivolina, since most of the markets in town were ransacked. It is also impossible for them to get much done with many businesses and stores closed in town, including banks. And, of course, for Ivoloina, the turmoil is bad news in terms of visitor numbers. Last week, a cruise ship, that was scheduled to visit at Ivoloina, cancelled. Cruise ship revenue is very important to Ivoloina, as there are sometimes hundreds of foreign visitors who make the trip from the docked ships.

So what does this all mean for Madagascar? In the short and medium term, there will be food shortages due to looting. Food prices are already going up and, in some cases, doubled. People will become more desperate and crime will increase (which tends to happen in such periods of instability.) Jobs have already been lost, and there are almost certainly more losses to come. Life will become more difficult for those on the bottom of the economic scale, especially those who are already living on the edge. The poorest in the countryside will be forced to draw more from the land, just to keep themselves and their families alive. So the state of the environment and the forests will certainly suffer. All not good.

Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the MFG staff and to the Malagasy people as a whole, during these difficult times. May there be a quick resolution to this tenuous situation, such that the country can move forward and people can live their lives in peace and dignity - and so that there can be hope for conservation efforts in Madagascar.
Post by Charlie Welch, Duke Lemur Centers Conservation Manager
If you read French, Charlie suggests this link.


  1. Well put Charlie.

  2. This whole situation really breaks my heart. It really seems like Madagascar was on the upswing with foreign investment starting to pour into the country and ecotourism on the rise.

    It embarrassingly difficult to get updates on the situation from US news sources. I've found it easier to follow the news by using Twitter to follow people in Antananarivo.