Madagascar's largest remaining rainforest containing animals found nowhere else on earth will be preserved, thanks to an historic compromise that blends the two competing pressures faced by poor countries worldwide: conserving natural resources versus human development. The park will be signed into law by the island-republic's new president, Didier Ratsiraka. A formal inauguration ceremony will take place on Sat., Oct. 18, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), CARE International and The Peregrine Fund announced today.
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Called Masoala National Park, the protected area spans 840 square miles across the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar, and includes not only tropical forests, but an extensive coral reef and a newly discovered whale breeding ground that runs along the coastline. Animals such as the red-ruffed lemur, Madagascar red owl, and extremely rare serpent eagle, cling to Masoala's unique ecosystems, along with 22 other mammal species. The region also supports one of the highest diversity of palm species in the world.
Until recently, the Masoala Peninsula was threatened by encroachment both by the local communities that depend on the region for agricultural land and firewood, along with international logging companies. In response, a unique consortium consisting of the Malagasy parks board (ANGAP) and Wildlife Department (DEF), along with CARE International, WCS and The Peregrine Fund stepped in to find solutions to the environmental and economic challenges Masoala presented.
"The approval of the new legislation culminates five years of work by the consortium and represents a huge commitment by the Madagascar government, done against all odds," said Lisa Dean, CARE Madagascar Country Director. "Masoala is their last remaining exploitable hardwood forest and yet they are instead choosing to preserve it. That is extraordinary."
WCS and The Peregrine Fund teamed with Stanford University to delineate park boundaries using the unique combination of remote sensing, geographic information systems, and on-the-ground surveys of butterflies, mammals, birds, vegetation and human land use. Park boundaries were drawn to assure protection of serpent eagles and red- ruffed lemurs, and 22 rare butterfly species that signal the great habitat diversity present on the peninsula.
The resulting park blends a strict national park status with the needs of both wildlife and the 40,000 people that share the peninsula. This will include a land-use system that will permit some agriculture and timber harvesting. Local communities will also benefit from a tourist revenue-sharing program that will pump funds into other development programs. According to WCS, park residents have learned that conserving the park's resources brings direct benefits to themselves and the region's wildlife.
"This is one of the first times in history that a national park has been designated scientifically, taking into account biodiversity, economics and social concerns," said Claire Kremen, a WCS scientist who led the research team that designed the new park. "Madagascar can be proud of this model accomplishment, which is a great victory of both biodiversity and humanity."
"The rediscovery of the Madagascar serpent eagle and red owl, once thought extinct, by Russel Thorstrom on Masoala Peninsula was incredibly exciting for us, so it is very satisfying to also be part of a team that is helping conserve these species' threatened habitat," said Dr. Rick Watson, program director for Africa and Madagascar for The Peregrine Fund.
USAID backed the project until last year, when the Dutch government took over funding. However, U.S. support, particularly from the Ambassador to Madagascar, remains indispensable, along with the support of numerous foundations.
Madagascar's conservation worries are not over, however. Foreign logging companies continue to express interest in exploiting the buffer zone just outside of the park. Without sustainable and responsible management, such logging might disastorously effect the internal ecosystem of Masoala National Park, as well as devastate the resources set aside specifically for long-term use by local inhabitants.
To download images and a map of Masoala National Park, go to:
Video footage available through Wildlife Conservation Society