Madagascar: 615 new species in a decade

"Treasure Island of biodiversity" is in acute danger

Some of the new species. Madagascar is one of the world's most extraordinary ecoregions © WWF Madagascar
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In the last decade, researchers in Madagascar have discovered more than 600 previously unknown animal and plant species. This is shown by a now presented report by the environmental organization WWF. The new species also includes 41 mammals, including the smallest primate in the world. However, the country's political instability and rapid deforestation threatens to destroy this "treasure trove of biodiversity" before it has been fully explored.

Madagascar is one of the most extraordinary ecoregions on earth. Nowhere else in the world, apart from Australia, are there so many endemic species, ie animal and plant species, that only exist there. Therefore, among scientists, Madagascar is considered the eighth continent. Almost three-quarters of the species found there are nowhere else outside the fourth largest island in the world.

From the mouse lemur to the giant fan palm

The current WWF report "Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar" lists 615 new plant and animal species that were discovered between 1999 and 2010: 385 plants, 42 invertebrates, 17 fish, 69 amphibians and even 41 new mammal species. One of the newly discovered species is the Berthe mouse lemur weighing just 30 grams. This lemur is the smallest primate in the world and served as a template for a character in Cartoon Madagascar. Also, a huge fan palm (Tahina spectabilis), which stings only once in their lives with a spectacular inflorescence from the crown, is one of the new species. Sensational was the discovery of a gecko, which can adjust its skin color like a chameleon to the background.

Deforestation intensified since 1009

Many of the recently discovered species are now severely threatened, especially by deforestation of their habitats. "It is depressing to know that many of these newly discovered species will soon be gone and countless others will not even discover the light of the world of researchers, " said WWF Madagascar expert Martin Geiger. The world's fourth-largest island, with its unique biodiversity, has already lost 90 percent of its forests.

After the coup d'état in March 2009 and subsequent political unrest, Madagascar's rainforests were plundered to export expensive hardwoods - especially rosewood. Of these, tens of thousands of hectares of forest were affected in the particularly valuable national parks Marojejy, Masoala, Makira and Mananara in the north. In addition to the deforestation wave meat from wild animals, so-called "Bush meat", was increasingly offered from the forests. In some restaurants, a plate of lemur meat cost less than three euros. Political instability and the spread of crime have also hit the tourism industry hard, one of the few sources of income for the local population. display

"The forests of Madagascar are still unexplored and mysterious, even though they have already been largely destroyed, " says Martin Geiger. "If these few remaining forests are not saved, countless species that we have not even met will disappear." The WWF is working intensively on Madagascar to establish a network of protected areas. For the inhabitants, the environmental organization develops a range of alternative and sustainable sources of income so that families can live in harmony with their environment.

(WWF, 07.06.2011 - NPO)