TV News Feature:
Madagascar Ecotourism

Keith Bellows
for National Geographic Today
July 24, 2001

Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, a former French colony, really a wonderful place, but one that has been incredibly fragmented.

This is a place that's got a thousand orchid species, rare lemurs, but 85 percent of the country has been deforested, so it's really facing a crisis.

You look at an island like this that really has been ruined; some people call this sort of an environmental hell. It has been completely stripped of a lot of its natural forestation, so you get an opportunity here to balance that with really only the saving grace, which is ecotourism.

Madagascar is in the Indian Ocean. It's a long way away, but for someone who's really interested in ecotourism, someone really interested in getting to a place that is not on the beaten track, this is a great place to go, and it's worth seeing now.

The main attraction really is the animal life and the wildness of the place.

If you look at the rain forest there are some big tracts of land. There's about a 560,000-acre (225,000-hectare) national park, which still has a lot of the northern rain forest intact. This is a pretty wild area.

The guides really know where you're going to see lemurs and geckoes, which are among the big features of the place.

Frankly, the idea here is that if you've got really qualified guides, not only is it a benefit for the people who are going there, but this is an incentive for the people to actually look at their land as a natural resource as opposed to just a wastepaper basket in which they are just going to throw their trash and denude the land.

I think it's just a matter of making sure that the locals are benefiting.

It's very easy to say, especially as an outsider, that people should not cut down forests, people should take care of the land, people should do all these wonderful things to benefit tourists.

But, if it does not benefit the local economy, they really don't have any choice but to cut down the forests or hunt the game. It's really the only way they can survive.

More and more, ecotourism and nature travel can be used as a tool to really save some of the great places that we're losing.

Continued on Next Page >>




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