conservation environment

Madagascar: a new species a week

I had the immense privilege of growing up in Madagascar. It’s one of the world’s most fascinating countries, from an anthropological and biological point of view. A vast island, it separated from the African mainland so long ago that its wildlife evolved more or less independently. As a result, the majority of its plants and animals are found nowhere else on earth.

Since it’s a large and often inaccessible country, much of it is only now being explored by biologists. Since 1999, new species have been discovered at a rate of over one a week, including 11 chameleons, 12 orchids and 41 mammals.

If you’re looking to get a species named after yourself, that’s where to go. There was an expatriate family that lived not far from us, and we used to go over to theirs to play. The father was a botanist from Kew Gardens, and in his first year in Madagascar he identified 9 new species of palm tree.

So, this post is simply a celebration of Madagascar’s biodiversity. WWF have a wonderful review of the last decade, showcasing some of the new creatures discovered and how they can be protected. It’s called Treasure Island and it’s available online here (pdf).

PS. The little fish shown at the top is the Bedotia Marojejy, which was identified in 2000 in a river at the boundaries the Marojejy National Park. I’ve included it because the park was plundered by a ‘rosewood mafia’ in the aftermath of the 2009 political coup. Taking advantage of the political vacuum, logging companies smuggled large quantities of valuable tropical timber out of the country. They even stole the impounded stockpiles that had been confiscated by the authorities in previous efforts to clamp down on illegal logging. Most of it was bound for China, although Gibson guitars were embarrassed to be the subject of an investigation over the legality of their rosewood guitars. That’s just one little example of just how fragile some of these environments are – and please refrain from buying anything made from tropical hardwoods like ebony or rosewood.

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