Madagascar - The Rush for Sapphires
Illegal sapphire mining in Madagascar
For decades there has been sapphire mining in Madagascar, but over the past few months a “sapphire rush” has brought more than 40,000 people into the remote rainforests of eastern Madagascar.
This largest ‘rush’ in the past 20 years is causing significant environmental damage to the biodiverse area known as Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena. The illegal mining activity leads to destruction as the land is cleared to dig for gems. The scale of the devastation is immense and yet many of these men will only recover a handful of sapphires. But the hope of a significant find spurs them on, and high quality sapphires are being dug out from the deep pits scarring the landscape.
Rainforest is being cut down, and make-shift communities have sprung up. The damage to the area on this unprecedented scale is damaging to all wildlife, but most of all to the lemurs such as the critically endangered Indri whose haunting calls can be heard across the valley created by the mining activity. Their diet of leaves and berries requires them to have large territories within the rainforest and they are being pushed into increasingly smaller areas.
Lemurs, of which there are over 100 species, are unique to Madagascar and the Indri is not alone in facing this escalating threat. Critically endangered black & white ruffed lemurs are part of our captive breeding programme at our wildlife parks in Kent. This species is suffering the same habitat loss in its native homeland, as are greater bamboo lemurs and many others.
This latest ‘rush’ has brought the miners close to one of our own community led sites at Ranomainty, and there appears to be no end in sight.
What can be done - currently it is not easy for the consumer to avoid buying sapphires that have been mined illegally, not least as many are smuggled through Sri Lanka and Thailand. In time it may be possible to achieve an international agreement to regulate trade in these gems, and whilst environmentalists and conservationist groups lobby authorities for this, and for better protection in the affected areas, it has to be remembered the miners are living in abject poverty. It is this poverty, and the lure of great wealth which drives these men on. Many come into the region, but droughts and poor returns from crops have also led to local farmers, and those that are unemployed, joining the hunt for gemstones.
What is The Aspinall Foundation doing?
Our work in Madagascar recognises the need for local community involvement in conservation. We also recognise subsistence living is the best many can hope for, and this needs to change if the unique and diverse wildlife of Madagascar is to survive in the long term. Our charity works in partnership with local community associations at every project site. This means we can help the Malagasy people manage the forests and conservation programmes. We can also support the establishment of viable farming methods and stable income streams.
For example, in 2015 we donated construction materials to the Mamelontsoa community association (COBA), so that they could renovate a couple of buildings for a rice project. We also provided a loan to buy the rice from the association members at the end of the growing season, so it could be stored until later in the season for selling at a higher price when rice stocks are low. The profit made by delaying the sale benefitted 72 local members of the COBA, and was then invested in materials for improving rice yields for the following year.
It is this holistic approach which we believe will ultimately allow human and wildlife populations to co-exist effectively.
What can you do?
Please donate today. When you support our team you are helping both endangered wildlife and the local communities who are the guardians of this amazing island.Donate Today