MAROJEJY NATIONAL PARK, Madagascar: A political crisis in this African island nation has triggered a pillage of its mythical wildlife and forests, and conservation groups fear that the peril will worsen as donors suspend funding to punish the coup leaders running the country.Conservationists say the problem is particularly distressing in Madagascar, because it is a land like no other. After the island broke off mainland Africa 160 million years ago, Indian Ocean isolation created a biological laboratory that spawned thousands of plants and animals – massive moths, brawny baobabs, a hundred species of furry lemurs – that exist nowhere else.Security in Madagascar has broken down since a coup in March and traffickers have smuggled out record numbers of Ploughshare tortoises, one of the world’s rarest, for sale to Asian and European collectors, environmentalists said. A nature organisation has exposed a lemur-poaching racket providing scores of the rare primates, roasted, to restaurants in port cities.Most troubling, activists said, was a brazen plunder of protected forests by armed bands of illegal loggers who, by threatening park rangers, loot prized hardwoods for a ”timber mafia” that exports them to furniture markets in Asia and the US.”Once the crisis exploded, there was no more state of law in Madagascar,” said Herve Bakarizafy, the director of the Marojejy National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which closed for two months this year as gangs felled hundreds of rosewood trees in a forest that is home to 11 species of threatened lemurs.Tourism and economic growth, which rose steadily in recent years, have plummeted since President Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by the DJ-turned-mayor of Antananarivo, the capital, Andry Rajoelina, who had military backing.In Madagascar’s remote northeast, the breakdown has allowed a ”gold rush” of illegal logging and poaching, transforming languid parks into mini battlegrounds, said Niall O’Connor, the WWF’s regional representative.A decree issued by the Ravalomanana government in January permitted select companies to temporarily export stocks of rare rosewood and ebony trees that had been felled by a cyclone. When the government collapsed, those exporters saw a green light to pillage, park officials said.Conservation activists said they are encouraged by the new environment minister, an army colonel named to the transitional government last month. But the international community views the administration he serves in as illegitimate. So it is anyone’s guess how long he will keep his job.The Washington Post
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