Dwindling forests

Madagascar is home to two types of forest. Dry deciduous forest covers much of western Madagascar, while lush tropical rainforest spans eastern regions and the edge of the central plateau.

Barely more than 10% of Madagascar's original forest survives today. Deforestation was particularly severe during French rule, when 70% of the island's forests were destroyed in 30 years. As long as two hundred years ago, deforestation was such a widespread problem that the king of the Merina people punished those who deliberately destroyed forest in his kingdom.

Paradise lost?

In the video, you can see loggers cutting down trees. However, most deforestation is carried out by local people following the traditional practice of tavy, or slash-and burn-farming. Tavy has been a way-of-life among Malagasy tribespeople for centuries. Since the climate is often harsh in Madagascar and natural disasters such as cyclones strike often, people frequently lose land which they have spent a lifetime farming. To prevent starvation, rice is planted in hills cultivated by the tavy method.

Thanks to centuries of tree loss, much of Madagascar is now made up of grassland. Unlike on the main African landmass, this savanna is lifeless. The animals that inhabit the island have evolved to live in forests, and are not adapted to survive in open country. The destruction of Madagascar’s forests poses a great threat to their survival.

Hope for the future

Many Malagasy people are beginning to see the dangers of deforestation. In 1985, Madagascar hosted an international conference to discuss conservation of these forests. By offering people living near the reserves alternative housing and a new way-of-life, the government was able to protect the forests. Often, when presented with an alternative to slash-and-burn, people are happy to pursue a more sustainable approach. A number of new national parks have been founded since then. In 203, work began to create "wildlife corridors” which would allow migrating animals to travel between reserves.