for National Geographic News
With Madagascar's government paralyzed after a recent coup, looters are invading the African island country's protected wildlife sanctuaries, harvesting trees and threatening critically endangered lemurs and other species, conservationists said this week.
Marojejy National Park in northern Madagascar has been closed to tourism. In other parks, rangers are abandoning their posts, according to reports.
The trouble is linked to turmoil that culminated in the coup d'etat that ousted President Marc Ravalomanana last week.
Some protected conservation areas are being invaded by organized criminals intent on cutting down valuable rosewood trees and extracting other resources, according to conservationists in Madagascar.
The closure of Marojejy National Park was "deemed necessary by park management due to the lawlessness that has descended over the ... region during this time of political unrest in Madagascar, and the resultant looting and destruction which is currently occurring within the park," according to the park's Web site.
"In particular, gangs of armed men (led primarily by foreign profiteers in conjunction with the rich local mafia) are plundering the rainforests of Marojejy for the extremely valuable rosewood that grows there," the site continues.
"Most worrisome is the well-being of the highly endangered silky sifaka, a lemur found only in the rainforests of Marojejy and the surrounding area."
The silky sifaka is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, meaning the animal is "considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild."
Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Erik Patel has been studying the silky sifaka since 2001.
"Illegal logging of precious wood has emerged as one of the most severe threats to Madagascar's dwindling northeastern rainforests," Patel said in an email.
Over the past few years, thousands of logs, worth millions of U.S. dollars, have been confiscated at the Madagascan ports of Vohémar, Antalaha, and Toamasina, he said.
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