How illegal mining is threatening imperiled lemurs – by Paul Tullis (National Geographic – March 19, 2019)

A rush for Madagascar’s gemstones is exacerbating destruction of critical wildlife habitat.

AMBATONDRAZAKA, MADAGASCAR — Indris, at two feet tall the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs, are big sleepers. The primates awaken two or three hours after sunrise, forage for leaves high in the canopy during the day (amid frequent naps), and choose their spot for the night well before dark.

On our trek into the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a protected area known by its French acronym, CAZ, photographer Adriane Ohanesian, translator-guide Safidy Andrianantenaina, and I often heard their calls. The sound, a bit like someone blowing a trombone for the first time, can carry up to a mile through the dense forest.

We were hiking deep into the CAZ, a 1,470-square-mile stretch of rainforest joining two national parks that enables lemurs and other animals to mingle their populations, maintaining the genetic diversity that’s essential to their survival. Our goal was to witness firsthand the effects of illegal gem mining on some of the last remaining habitat for wild lemurs.

Our immediate destination, though, was the makeshift village of Ambodipaiso, a staging place for illegal sapphire mines that have turned parts of the CAZ into scarred, treeless wastes. Sapphires were discovered here seven years ago, and by 2016, tens of thousands of Madagascans had flooded in, illegally uprooting trees and diverting streams in hopes of finding gemstones to help lift them out of poverty.

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