for National Geographic News
The government of Madagascar has established 15 new conservation areas encompassing a total of 2.65 million acres (about a million hectares) on the East African island famed for its unique wildlife.
The additions increase protected territory to more than 9 million acres (3.7 million hectares) on Madagascar, which traditionally has had a poor conservation record.
The protected areas include tropical rain forest, dry deciduous forest, wetlands, limestone caves, and other threatened ecosystems (see a map of Madagascar).
Conservationists say the newly established parks will help protect Madagascar's wealth of species, including its famous lemurs, from extinction. (Related: "Three New Lemurs Discovered, Add to Madagascar's Diversity" [June 26, 2006].)
An estimated 80 percent of the island nation's plants and animals are found nowhere else on Earth.
"Madagascar is just a gold mine of biodiversity," said Russell Mittermeier, president of Arlington, Virginia-based Conservation International (CI), one of several environmental groups helping to fund the parks.
"That's what makes the protection of these areas truly important in a global sense."
Island of Diversity
Madagascar's unique biodiversity is due to its separation from Africa 150 million years ago and from India 88 million years ago.
The island boasts a huge diversity of habitats, from boggy rain forest in the east to the unique, semi-arid Spiny Forest in the south.
"The natural habitats are like an archipelago of different islands perched on a mini-continent," said Alison Jolly, a primatologist at the University of Sussex in England, who has studied Madagascar's lemurs for more than four decades.
"This is a major conservation problem as well as a delight," she said. "There is limited use saving just one or a few big reserves. Each forest is different from the next, so each is valuable."
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