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[Antananarivo] Vohibola forest on Madagascar’s east coast is considered by experts to be an important natural “gene bank”. But some fear it could soon be wiped out by harmful human activity such as logging and poaching.
The site, a so-called primary forest of native tree species, is of huge environmental significance – not only for local villagers but for the whole of the East African island nation.
Biologist Achille Raselimanana of the Association Vahatra, which supports researchers and conservationists specialising in Madagascar’s abundant biodiversity, told SciDev.Net: “Like all the other forests along this coastline, it is home to species never found anywhere else, such as Brookesia minima, the world’s smallest chameleon.”
“Forests such as Vohibola are veritable living laboratories where genes we risk losing are preserved. They are like banks that keep riches safe for future generations.”
Jonah Ratsimbazafy – chair of the Study and Research Group on Primates of Madagascar (GERP)
Raselimanana, a lecturer and researcher at Madagascar’s University of Antananarivo, is the co-author of a three-volume scientific textbook on the 98 terrestrial protected areas of Madagascar, officially launched 1 March.
In the 1980s, it was estimated that the forest covered around 2,300 hectares – the equivalent of over 3,200 football pitches. Now it is thought to be around 1,000 hectares.
What little is left is falling prey to local wood smugglers who, according to several sources, are protected by authorities on the ground.
Lemurs in the Vohibola forest are at risk from poaching and changes to their natural habitat. Image credit: SciDev.Net / Rivonala Razafison.
“There are only four specimens in our forest. As they are rare, they are safe for the time being. But I doubt they will be for long,” he says.
The fact that such species can only be found in Vohibola is highly significant from a scientific perspective, according to Raselimanana.
A rudimentary charcoal kiln discovered in the forest. Image credit: SciDev.Net / Rivonala Razafison.
According to local sources, most of the smugglers, all of whom are unemployed, come from the country’s economic capital Toamasina, 60 kilometres north of the site.