Violence and lawlessness in Madagascar threaten rainforest conservation
Ranomafana National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as a place where security has been deteriorating for some years. But things are getting much worse thanks to an escalation of raids on local villages, which have seen their staple crops stolen. The people are subsistence farmers with very few resources, and when they try to defend their crops they're attacked.
The local police chief, Heritiana Emilson Rambeloson, who arrived to investigate, was shot dead, and deaths aren't unusual. Jean François Xavier Razafindraibe was also killed recently when armed men raided his village.
Home to critically endangered lemurs and a tourist hot-spot
Ranomafana National Park is part of the Forests of Atsinanana, home to critically endangered lemurs including the golden bamboo lemur and the black-and-white ruffed lemur. It's a hot tourist spot, offering extraordinary landscapes, rare wildlife and friendly, mellow people. So far tourists haven't been affected by the uprise in violence, but it's only a matter of time.
Yet again, greed for gold is a culprit
Illegal gold panning in the forests is the source of the problems, an ongoing issue nobody seems to be able to resolve. The miners pollute the rivers, carry out mass deforestation, and kill and eat the rare wildlife. There are also armed cattle thieves, ‘dahalo' to deal with and they've apparently caused around four thousand deaths in the past half decade.
In 2017, the mayor of the ton of Ambalakindresy was shot dead in what locals believe was a ‘hit', arranged to stop his plans to rid the region of the dahalo and gold miners. Gold mining activity has been escalating ever since. And the people are terrified, which is affecting local research and conservation efforts. Every village in the area is afraid, despite the police's robust response to recent attacks in the shape of 80 more police.
The increased insecurity in the region speaks about a wider problem of disrespect for the law in Madagascar. But good, solid governance is vital to develop the country's economy and fight to save its irreplaceable biodiversity.
Will a new leader strengthen conservation efforts in Madagascar?
Madagascar is due to elect a new leader on 19th December. Let's hope a change in leadership might also bring a change in the violence and lawlessness affecting its precious forests.