Tourism to Help Sustain the Forests?
Madagascar is one of the most biodiverse places on earth with over 85% of its plants and animals found nowhere else. Its vast biodiversity ranges from many species as yet undiscovered by man to some of the most recognisable animals in the world, such as the Ring-tailed lemur. So we all have an interest in using tourism to help sustain the forests there.
However, despite all this biodiversity and abundance of natural resources the country’s forests continue to be cut down for logging, farming and mining. Many people living in rural Madagascar do so in poverty and earning from activities mentioned provide vital income for them and their families. Widespread political and government corruption mean that the exploitation of natural resources from things such as mining results in a few elite getting rich while the remainder of the population grind on in poverty.
There is much less than 20% of Madagascar’s forest left compared with before human occupation of the country and forests continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate. Government lack of action to implement its own laws or in some cases politicians breaking their own laws to profit from logging and mining means that relying on the government to prevent further deforestation will not work as things stand.
Despite all of this doom and gloom with regard to loss of habitat for critically endangered animals I did see some positive things with regards to preserving the forests in Madagascar. Not everyone is interested in making money from exploitation of the country’s natural resources and people can make a good living from working in a sustainable way in the forests. An example of this is tourism. Parks relatively close to the capital Antananarivo such as Andasibe have a steady flow of tourists visiting the park to see the lemur populations which live there.
These include the Indri, which is the largest of all living lemur species. With their distinctive high pitched wailing early in the morning people come from all over the globe to both hear and see them. They are also very distinctive looking, having silky black and white fur. They have black faces and largely black backs and white fronts. Their big green eyes give them quite a surprised looking appearance and they are unforgettable to both hear and see.
What did strike me about Andasibe national park and the community park next to it is how healthy both the forest and the animals look. There has been no logging or hunting in this area recently and the revenue generated by the tourists who come through here make it in the interests of the local population to keep it that way.
Alarmingly it is not difficult to find solid evidence of illegal mining not too far from Andasibe, in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a protected area of 3800km2 known by its French acronym, CAZ. What is vitally important about this corridor is that it links other protected regions together so animal populations can move between them and groups can breed with each other to keep the gene pool diverse and strong. Zahamena National Park and Analamazaotra- Mantadia National Park are two of the protected regions linked by this corridor and home to the critically endangered Indri lemurs whose distinctive wail can be heard in the early morning as they rise and start to feed.
A National Geographic article on visiting one of these mines in early 2019 said “that mining has turned parts of the CAZ into scarred, treeless wastes.”
Many people in Madagascar are caught up in this cycle of poverty with no real alternative but the areas which have a stronger tourist presence have a vested interest in keeping the forests intact. This is why we can use tourism to help sustain the forests…
If more tourists go there then the money they put into the local economy will help sustain the forests. I would particularly like to see more independent travellers in the country who may be willing to get off the beaten path a bit more and visit some of the places which are less well known. Getting around Madagascar independently either by public transport or by using a hired vehicle is an adventure like no other and will contribute in some small way to making the parks viable by generating money for people who live in the area.
Other countries close to Madagascar have booming tourist industries – such as Mauritius – and there is no reason why Madagascar can’t attract people who choose holiday destinations like this.