Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tourists to the Rescue in Africa Madagascar Forests, Rich in Rare Plants and Animals, May Be Saved with the Help of Visitor Fees. RAIN-FOREST PRESERVATION

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tourists to the Rescue in Africa Madagascar Forests, Rich in Rare Plants and Animals, May Be Saved with the Help of Visitor Fees. RAIN-FOREST PRESERVATION

Article excerpt

SUDDENLY the morning air was split by an eerie howling. From their tree perches directly above us, three baboon-sized Indri lemurs let loose a barrage of screams that were answered by lemurs in other parts of the rain forest.

A little while later, one by one, they sprang with giant leaps from tree to tree, ricocheting off trunks like billiard balls defying gravity, never touching the ground. After these short bursts through the forest, they stopped to rest on a branch, leisurely eating leaves and fruit.

Extinct for millions of years everywhere else in the world, lemurs now face increasing danger on this island refuge off the east coast of Africa. (A dwarf lemur, thought to be extinct even here, was found by a German biologist last year.)

The rain forests lemurs live in, also home to many plant and animal species found nowhere else, are fast falling to the axes of farmers seeking fresh cropland and fuel.

But the lemurs, an ancient relative of apes and humans, may be able to help save themselves - and their forests.

Fees paid by a small but steadily growing number of tourists to enter protected forests could help pay costs of forest guards and other measures to slow down forest destruction, according to conservationists and others.

"We're talking about a small, sophisticated, high-cost, high-value (tourist) market," says Christopher Ward, environmental officer for the World Bank in Madagascar.

"You have to be rather adventurous to come to a place like this," says Mr. Ward. "But fortunately the people who are interested in biodiversity and interested in lemurs, and reptiles, and insects, and trees, and plants are, in fact, adventurous types."

Madagascar is one of the richest nations in the world in terms of nature, but one of the poorest economically.

A World Bank analysis estimates that each tourist to Madagascar adds about $500 to the country's income. "We hope some of those returns can actually be plowed back into conservation management," says Ward.

According to the World Bank, the number of tourists visiting this island nation increased from about 4,000 in 1985 to 28,000 in 1987, including about 8,000 who came specifically to see plants and wildlife.

Michel Rakotonirina, an official with Madagascar Airtours, a travel service, estimates that there were about 40,000 tourists last year, nearly half of whom came to see natural areas. The others, he says, came to enjoy Madagascar's many beautiful beaches and the related resort hotels. …

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