Saturday, 20 August 2011

Silky Sifakas - Trouble in Lemur Land WATCH HERE

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Primatologist Erik Patel recently sent me Trouble in Lemur Land, a film that he has produced to raise awareness of an ever increasing threat to Madagascar's unique and diverse wildlife (watch the film below). The crisis at the heart of the film is the illegal logging of Madagascan hardwood, and in particular the devastating effect of the wide scale loss of Rosewood on the enchanting silky sifaka lemur, one of the rarest mammals in the world. Erik, who has been studying sifakas for 10 years, told me that less than 2000 these sifakas remain in the wild, and only in a small region of northeastern Madagascar. None have ever survived in captivity.

"Huge risks were taken to get this logging footage. This is a dangerous topic to investigate, but we had to take a stand" 
 - Erik Patel, Primatologist 

WATCH: Trouble in Lemur Land

The Madagascan Hard Wood Crisis

Fuelled by international demand, illegal logging of rosewood, ebony, and pallisandre has emerged as one of the most severe threats to Madagascar’s dwindling rain forests. 2009 was a year of political upheaval in Madagascar due to an undemocratic change of power, this allowed an unprecedented level of illegal logging, several hundred thousand trees were slashed from several UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Masoala, Marojejy and Makira Natural Parks. 

Since the 2009 coup d’etat, all forms of habitat disturbance have surged as international aid has been cut. Poverty has increased, forest monitoring has declined, and corruption has risen due to a weak central government.

Can't see the trees for the wood

The Madagascan hardwood is extremely valuable. Rosewood can sell for U.S. $5,000 per cubic meter, more than double the price of mahogany. Harvesting these extremely heavy hardwoods (each two meter piece can weigh 200kg!) is a labor-intensive activity requiring coordination between local residents who manually cut the trees, but who receive little profit (about $5 per day). The bulk of the progit goes to a criminal network of exporters, domestic transporters, and corrupt officials who initiate the process. 

The impacts of such selective logging include violating local taboos (e.g. ebony is sacred for some Sakalava) as well as ecological consequences such as increased bushmeat hunting, likelihood of fire, invasive species, impaired habitat, and loss in genetic diversity. 

Where the wild wood goes

It is now well established that approximately 95% of Madagascar’s illegally logged rosewood and ebony is shipped to China for luxury Ming Dynasty style furniture including single rosewood bed frames which sell for 1 million dollars each. Some of the largest furniture chains in Shanghai and Beijing have entire floors selling only rosewood furniture sourced from Madagascar and several other Asian nations. Roughly 5% of the exported rosewood and ebony is purchased by musical instrument companies in United States and Europe. 

Madagascan Rosewood

A glimmer of hope

Currently, several environmental organizations are working with the government of Madagascar to gain international trade protection for Madagascar rosewood, ebony, and pallisandre under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

For more details and a reference list, see Erik Patel’s National Geographic Blog: Madagascar’s Logging Crisis: Separating Myth From Fact.

Photo: Rachel Kramer (facebook group)


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