Madagascar, one of the most biologically-rich areas on Earth, has perhaps the most endangered ecosystem. Forest removal began with the arrival of the first humans between 1500 and 2000 years ago. Originally much of the eastern part of the island was covered with forest, perhaps 11.2 million hectares. By 1950 only 7.6 million hectares remained; by 1985, only 3.8 million hectares, less than 34% of the original forest cover. Little reforestation has occurred, since the tree species here cannot adapt to clear-cut areas or to the soil degradation consequent upon deforestation, and so formerly forested areas have become covered with herbaceous plants. Originally, deforestation was carried out in the lowlands, areas of high population density, but this is changing as other areas are being cut at greater and greater rates (Green and Sussman, 1990). Much of the land now being converted is marginal and less-accessible land, and, since Madagascar has fragile soils, it has become the world’s “erosion capital” (Sierra Club Population Report, 1991-92). Some land has become so badly degraded that soil has been lost down to bedrock. Population growth in Madagascar is very high (3.1% per year in the early 1990’s; a population doubling time of 22 years) and the remaining forest is threatened by the encroachment of subsistence farming and demands for fuel. This has led to removal of forest even in areas designated as nature reserves (Green and Sussman, 1990). At present Madagascar, with a relatively small land mass, has 8% of the world’s endangered mammals. Many of these are lemurs, almost all of which occur only here; fourteen species are on the path of the dodo. Many other species of birds and mammals have become highly endangered due to human activities, mainly habitat destruction (see also Part II, G6e).

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