canoe sliced through the rising swell, its motor
struggling to cope with the waves until the prow
bit into the gently shelving beach on the tiny
island of Nosy Be off the north-west coast of
on to the sand, it felt like arriving in paradise.
Fishermen cracked coconuts at the edge of the
palm-fronded village. All it needed was Dorothy
Lamour in a sarong to complete the illusion. She
could not have sustained it for long. Madagascar's
ecology is living on the edge, threatened by an
economy in decline.
With its distinctive
varieties of plants and animals, the world's fourth
largest island could have made a fitting setting
for the Garden of Eden. In many ways its fortunes
are not dissimilar to those of Adam and Eve. It
was a country that had it all and blew it.
Today it is paradise
squandered, with 90 per cent of its tropical forest
reduced by shifting agriculture to barren hills
and scrubby vegetation. The small areas of natural
forest that remain sparkle like heirlooms in a
pawn shop. Recognition of these threats is drawing
increasing numbers of naturalists to the island
in the hope of saving the declining habitat before
it is too late.
a 34-year-old primate researcher from Dundee,
Scotland, came to Nosy Be eight years ago to study
the black lemur, one of the least documented of
Madagascar's distinctive family of primates.
Now she has begun
to broaden her research in an attempt to create
a tourism and conservation-based blueprint for
economic development on a micro scale. If it works
it could provide lessons that may be duplicated
in other third world communities where wildlife
is threatened by human exploitation.
Andrews runs the
Black Forest Lemur Project from Ampangorinina,
the main village on Nosy Komba, an adjacent island.
Ampangorinina is typical of the island communities.
While its palm-tipped beaches are strikingly picturesque,
it is grindingly poor with barefooted children
in tattered clothes, rubbish-strewn pathways and
Customs and habits,
as in much of Malagasy society, are heavily influenced
by taboos or fadys. Certain trees are fenced off
because it would be fady to touch them. Fish is
eaten with care since to turn it over on the plate
would sink a fishing boat somewhere at sea.
As Andrews leans
back in her chair, describing her work, a male
lemur is springing up and down on a palm leaf
behind her head. "You can see they have adapted
quite well to living near villages. But they are
not always so welcome when they steal bananas
or rummage among the rubbish," she says.
The behaviour is tolerated because they lure tourists.
has plans to designate a 700-hectare patch of
virgin rainforest on Nosy Be as a national park
but Andrews is sceptical about its potential for
visitors. Seeing any kind of wildlife on the forest
trails is difficult. Is the average tourist going
to be interested, she wonders, when they can visit
the "Jungle Experience", a private attraction
nearby? There they see lemurs (encouraged by the
odd banana), chameleons (a captive population
placed on trees before visitors arrive) and a
boa constrictor (put back in its cage when they
The real forest
holds different surprises. Andrews leads us into
a clearing. A large gap had been created in the
canopy by the illegal felling of an ebony tree.
"It is impossible to cultivate ebony artificially.
This is 50 years' growth destroyed in an instant,"
The tree fellers
are looking for the black heartwood. As they make
their way through the forest they chop into other
ebony trees to inspect the dark wood, thereby
destroying many even when they are not hacked
that local people must be closely involved in
tourism and conservation. The villages have little
scope to extend their traditional subsistence
agriculture. They need new forms of income. "We
only want the national park if local people are
going to benefit," says Amisy Achimo, the
president of Marodoka village on the edge of the
Andrews has mobilised the Marodoka community to
build a cultural and wildlife information centre
funded by USAID, which runs the Peace Corps. The
lemur research has become the nucleus for a number
of community projects, attracting corporate support
from J &BWhisky which has included the study
in its "Care for the Rare" campaign
that sponsors programmes dedicated to conserving
some of the world's most endangered species.
charity dedicated to supporting scientific projects
worldwide , has added the project to its network
yet deliver the income that more fashionable destinations
derive from the affluent . Yet it is significant,
perhaps, that a company such as J & B Whisky
is pursuing a marketing drive on the back of environmental
conservation. Its research has highlighted conservation
as an important concern of the younger market
it is seeking to penetrate. The jet-set image
of the Martini people is passe. The future looks
green but can the Malagasys be convinced?