UNESCO recognizes threats to Madagascar rainforest

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The Atsinanana Rainforest in Madagascar has been placed in the latest World Heritage List Monday because of an ongoing illegal logging crisis and continuing lemur bush meat consumption in the national parks that are part of the forest.

In a statement,The United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that despite a decree outlawing the exploitation and export of precious woods, Madagascar continues to provide export permits for illegally logged rosewood and ebony.

It also said that other countries that have ratified the World Heritage Convention are known destinations for this timber.

The Atsinanana rainforests hosts six national parks. Two of those, Marojejy and Masoala parks, have been the center of illegal logging activities following political turmoil in March 2009.

BringĀ attention to the ongoing habitat loss in Madagascar

WWF's Regional Representative in Madagascar Niall O'Connor said he welcomed the reclassification. "The impact of illegal logging of precious woods on many forest sites, including the world heritage site of Antsinanana, is devastating for biodiversity, for livelihoods and for the world, as we continue to lose the unique biodiversity of the island of Madagascar," O'Connor said.

"With UNESCO reclassifying the site as a world heritage site in danger, the world should stand up and see the ongoing environmental destruction ongoing in Madagascar, and increase both pressure and support for immediate action. We need to both protect the unique environment for Madagascar and the critical services they provide to the majority of the population who struggle to seek out a subsistence living from the natural resources."

Action needed to stop illegal logging in Madagascar

With the recently submitted proposal to list all Malagasy precious woods under protections of the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an important step has been taken to regulate trade and gain transparency. However, the situation remains far from being solved, O'Connor said.

About 52,000 tons of precious wood from 100,000 trees are estimated to have been cut in 2009 alone, possibly covering 20,000 hectares within the parks. An additional 500,000 trees were probably felled to help raft the heavy trees downstream, according to WWF.

"In adding this site to the danger list, we are calling for international action to halt illegal logging and to also ensure that no illegally logged precious woods from Madagascar enter national markets," said Tim Badman, the head of World Heritage sites at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the UNESCO statement.

Madagascar's Atsinanana rainforest, says the UNESCO statement "contains globally outstanding biodiversity and have an exceptional proportion of endemic plant and animal species. The level of endemism within the property is approximately 80 to 90 percent for all groups, and endemic families and genera are common."

"The situation is not just an environmental disaster, it is a pending humanitarian disaster, and we need to address this now" says O'Connor.

Other sites added to the World Heritage in Danger list during the annual meeting, held in Brasilia, Brazil late last month included: the US' Everglades National Park, Georgia's Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, and Uganda's Tombs of Buganda Kings.

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