Sapphire rush overwhelms remote Madagascar rainforests – by Edward Carver (Toronto Star – April 2, 2017)

The Associated Press – ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR—A sapphire rush has brought tens of thousands of people into the remote rainforests of eastern Madagascar, disfiguring a protected environmental area and prompting calls for military intervention.

More high-quality sapphires have been found in the biodiverse area known as Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena in the past six months than were found in the entire country over the past 20 years, according to Vincent Pardieu, a French gemologist who has been visiting mines there for more than a decade and was in the area last month.

“I can tell you this is big,” Pardieu said. Gem trade shows around the world now have “nice, big, super-clean sapphires” from the region. “It’s the most important discovery in Madagascar for the past 20 or 30 years.”

Tens of thousands of miners and gem traders have poured into the rainforests around the village of Bemainty, said local officials. The miners have cut down thousands of acres of forest in the protected area, which environmental group Conservation International helps to manage, said the officials.

This island nation is renowned for its biodiversity and the protected forests in the eastern corridor area are “one of Madagascar’s most precious resources,” according to the World Bank. The corridor is home to more than 2,000 plant species found nowhere else on earth and 14 endangered species of lemur, according to the Ministry of Environment, Ecology, and Forests.

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