Patrick Hummer
Professor Sroufe
March 5, ‏2001‏
Madagascar: A Dying Land In Need of Help
Madagascar is one of the most diverse areas of land that has undergone evolution totally independent from surrounding continents. The plant and animal species located on the island are all endemic to the island, meaning all are native species. The amount of diversity is very high compared to that of other continents and the species found here cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Currently all organisms located on this island are in danger, even the humans. Much damage has already been done, yet each year the land seems to die even more. Many species are dying off rapidly and drastic measures will have to be taken to stop all of these species from becoming extinct.
All problems for this island arose with the introduction of humans. According to fossil records, humans arrived approximately 2000 years ago. With their arrival came destruction, a destruction that would continue until present day. They were not aware of their actions at the time and how they would forever change the ecosystem of Madagascar.
The most destructive problem that occurred a hundred years ago and is still practiced is that of tavy. Tavy is a process of forest clearing, also known as slash and burn. Humans living on the island use this system to create farmland for harvesting their most precious crops. What they do is they cut down all trees and or shrubs then set fire to the area of land that they want to farm. They use the burnt materials as fertilizers and then plant their crop. Next season the farmer must move to another area and continue to burn more of the forest down. Due to this form of farming, humans have turned vast wetlands into deserts and luscious forests into tundra. In the early days of colonization the humans would come back to the same plot of land after about 20 years. During that period of time the land was allowed to regenerate, thus not permanently destroying the land. When they returned to the land after it had regenerated they would continue slashing and burning it, releasing the nutrients that had been restored. The problem in this process arose when the population of Madagascar grew too large. With the increase of population came the need for more farmland. Now with the enormous amount of people living off of the land there is no more time for re-growth. Instead farmers are forced to re-plant on the same area of land over and over again. This makes problems worse because the area of land then becomes infertile relatively quick. According to specialists nearly one hundred tons of topsoil is destroyed each year. After that land is reaped of all its nutrients the farmers have no choice but to move to another area. Tavy is single handedly responsible for destroying the entire island that was once a luscious rain forest with many endemic species. What remains of this unique rain forest is only 10% of what existed before the arrival of humans. At the rate the forest is currently being destroyed, scientists give the remaining forests only 25 years to live. Madagascar has permanently lost many of its native plants that cannot be found anywhere in the world. Many plants living here have been found to have medicinal purposes. Two drugs that have been used on the island naturally are vincristine and vinblastine. The plants in this rain forest provide cheap and easily accessible Medicare. These plants could hold cures for the diseases of the future and are also the home to some of the most unique animals in the world that now must adapt or die.
Currently the numbers of animal species living on the island are decreasing at an alarming rate. Many unique species are becoming extinct due to the loss of land and because of poachers. Still living on the island are some of the most interesting species living today. One of the species that is completely endemic to the island is the lemur. A lemur is in the category of primates along with monkeys, apes, and humans. However, Lemurs are part of a sub-branch called prosimians, while humans and other types of monkeys are located in