Madagascar’s nature is unique – half of all chameleon species and all of the world’s lemurs live there. A large number of the island’s plant species are also endemic – i.e., they occur nowhere else on the planet. However, 80 percent of Madagascar’s original forest cover has been destroyed. Every day, fires, cattle ranchers and illegal loggers are eating further into the remaining forests.
Madagascar’s public administration and police have been crippled by budget cuts since the coup against President Marc Ravalomana in 2009. Illegal loggers trafficking in rosewood have been taking advantage of the power vacuum and operating with impunity in Masoala National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The rosewood is mainly exported to China, where it is used for luxury furniture. The traffickers use the vanilla trade as a cover, leading to conflicts between the timber mafia and vanilla growers.
In September 2016, thousands of people demonstrated in Maroantsetra in the north of the island, demanding the release of a vanilla grower who had been arrested following a complaint by a timber trader. A 14-year-old boy was killed when the protest turned violent.
Clovis Razafimalala, a noted environmentalist, was summoned to the district office for questioning. He was ordered to put an end to the protest and was ultimately accused of having organized it, despite not having been present at the time. He was also accused of arson perpetrated during the demonstration.
Clovis was subsequently jailed, and friends fear for his life.