The rainforests of Didy in eastern Madagascar usually ring with the calls of the indri, the island’s largest lemur. There is a different noise now: the chopping of trees, digging of gravel, and cheers of encouragement from the thousands of illegal miners who have flooded to these forests since sapphires were discovered in late September.
Bemainty, an area in the west of Didy, is experiencing a sapphire rush. Rosey Perkins, a gemologist, visited soon after the rush began in October. She estimated 45,000 people were already involved and that the mine was growing by 1,500 to 2,000 people a day. By now it may be significantly bigger. She told me:
“These gem deposits are found in the gravels of ancient river beds. Some are unusually large and have an attractive blue colour; there have been some phenomenal finds which are drawing in traders from as far away as Sri Lanka.”
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. People are desperate for any new income sources and will understandably travel to wherever they see an opportunity. The discovery of precious stones has led to rapid development in a number of parts of the country.
Particular challenges are raised when the stones are discovered in areas of importance for conservation, as with the latest find which is in a protected area: the Corridor Ankeniheny Zahamena (or CAZ). Herintsitohaina Razakamanarivo, a professor of forestry and soil sciences at the University of Antananarivo, said:
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