afrol News, 27 June - Six national parks along the eastern part of Madagascar have been found so unique that they were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List today. The Atsinanana site represents almost all the remaining rainforest on the Great Island, and almost 90 percent of all species in the forest live no other place on earth.
The mini-continent of Madagascar completed its separation from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago and has since that lived in splendid isolation. During these years, the Malagasy flora and fauna has become unique, diversifying in the island's desert, savannah and rainforest climate regions.
Especially the Malagasy rainforests, mostly located in the east and north, have a high degree of biodiversity. But deforestation has left just 8.5 percent of Madagascar's original forests and the new World Heritage site - the Rainforests of the Atsinanana - is now to protect the remaining habitat.
The Atsinanana site comprises six national parks of the eastern part of the island and was approved of by a UNESCO committee currently united in New Zealand. Following the inscription, a delegation from Madagascar noted that this is "a wonderful present for the country" and also supported "the commendable vision" of President Marc Ravalomanana to triple the size of the island's protected area system.
Also the UNECO committee applauded what it called "the tremendous efforts of Madagascar in protecting its remaining eastern rainforests," after most has been lost to deforestation. President Ravalomanana has strongly increased efforts to stop deforestation, protect remaining valuable natural sites and boost ecotourism to Madagascar.
The inscription of Atsinanana had been prepared for a long time by Malagasy authorities, who won the full support of the world conservation union IUCN. IUCN is used as consultants by UNESCO when it comes to natural World Heritage sites, and its recommendations are mostly followed. IUCN Vice-President Christine Milne noted that the inscription of these "exceptionally diverse rainforests" was "a great success story for Madagascar and global biodiversity conservation."
IUCN had strongly recommended the naming of Atsinanana as World Heritage. "These forests are critically important for maintaining the island's unique plants and animals, 80 to 90 percent of which can only be found in Madagascar and some of which date back to glacial periods," IUCN noted prior to the decision. "The site comprises a representative selection of the most important habitats of unique rainforest life, including many threatened and endemic plant and animal species," the recommendation read.
The UNESCO committee agreed, holding the Malagasy rainforests to be of great "importance to ecological and biological processes." Uniqueness is a ma
Landscapes from the rainforests of the Atsinanana: «There are significant discontinuities in habit.»
jor presupposition to qualify for the prestigious list. "The property is of global significance for fauna, especially primates. Many rare and threatened species occur in this site, including at least 25 species of lemur," UNESCO noted.
And the fauna of the six Malagasy rainforests is indeed unique. All five families of Malagasy primates, all endemic lemur families, seven endemic genera of rodents and six endemic genera of carnivores are represented in Atsinanana. Of 25 endemic and near-endemic mammal species in the rainforests, 22 are threatened; eight are critically endangered and nine endangered.
IUCN hopes that the World Heritage inscription of the six disconnected national parks will lead to further protection of Madagascar's remaining rainforests. The environmentalists were somewhat critical to the Malagasy government's decision to nominate such a fragmented natural site. Geographically, the parks are widely separated, especially a northern and a southern group.
"There are significant discontinuities in habit between the northern and southern groups such that connectivity has essentially been permanently lost; however habitat connectivity still exists within the northern and southern groups, albeit not yet permanently protected," IUCN noted. It is reported that none of the forested areas between the parks are likely to be given national park status or added to current parks, to the disappointment of environmentalists.
For Malagasy authorities, the inscription is welcome news to the country's great effort to promote ecotourism. Several of the parks that are now World Heritage are already developed as tourist destinations. The professionally managed Ranomafana National Park has significant tourism infrastructure and the park shares the income from entrance permits with local communities living adjacent to the park.
Also Agence Nationale pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées (ANGAP) - the managing authority of all the parks - gets a great part of its revenues from tourism taxes and fees. In all parks, ANGAP shares revenues from fees with communities neighbouring the parks on a 50-50 basis.
The growing tourism market in Madagascar therefore is increasingly important to both the management of the island's unique nature and to fighting widespread poverty in the Malagasy countryside. It is a win-win situation and the publicity given by the prestigious World Heritage List may become an important drive for ecotourism in Madagascar.
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