Madagascar: Conservation and Political Crisis

In 2009 Andry Rajoelina, with the support of the military and several small public organisations, seized power through a political coup in Madagascar. The High Transitional Authority, with Rajoelina as its leader, is currently governing Madagascar.  Rajoelina ousted President Ravlomanana and his government in a move seen by many as unconstitutional. This hasn’t won him any favours internationally as many countries have refused to acknowledge the new power ruling Madagascar. The state has been considered in a political crisis, there are still those that support Ravlomanana (currently in exile and living in South Africa) and with the date by which free elections were supposed to have taken place long since passed, the crisis doesn’t look like it’s to end anytime soon. But with all this political upheaval, which is been quite frankly overlooked by international media, it’s easy for other issues to take a backseat, or be forgotten all together.

A recent assessment by a group of specialists in Madagascar has shown that the island’s lemur population, along with all the other extremely biodiverse and unique species that call the island home are at increasing risk. Since the political coup in 2009 illegal logging and poaching of Lemurs has been on a worrying rise. You may think that this is only natural to see a slight rise for a country in political crisis, however what is shocking is that there has been no effort, by the High Tansitional Authority at least, to control the situation. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well,” Dr Mittermeier (Chair, IUCN Primates Specialist Group) told the BBC in a recent interview. For me personally I think it’s yet another disappointing example where the personal ambition of a few has stunted the efforts of the conservation movement.

I say this because there has been no beneficial outcome in any aspect to the people of Madagascar, to the political coup. It resulted in its isolation internationally from both the African Union and further afield, aid from the US was halted in its official capacity, during the period 2009-2011 the GDP fell to as far as -7% and the majority of the population still live beneath the poverty line. If there had been any improvement in Madagascar, then perhaps the neglect of the government to its responsibility of the conservation of its unique wildlife would have been partially forgivable. But with all these short falls, it’s hard to see why the coup was needed and easy to see that it was a complete waste of time. Politics should not affect the conservation effort, but unfortunately it does and while there are still those that wish to threaten the biodiversity of the planet there will always be those that turn a blind eye.

Mr Yellow.


The Future of Space Exploration is in Commercialisation

The top five countries leading the world in space travel today are the USA, Russia, China, India and the Isle of Man. The first four in this list are unsurprising; the USA and Russia led the world through their infamous space race during the cold war and China and India are two of the world’s fastest growing economies and industries. The Isle of Man seems a little out of place, or does it? In the last decade the Isle has quietly developed a reliable and beneficial name for itself in the space industry, an area worth $300bn a year.

Its success has come from, not its involvement in the international effort through organisations like NASA or the ESA, but because of its early involvement with the private sector of the space industry. Just over ten years ago the Isle of Man made its first venture into the private space race by signing an agreement with the local firm ManSat to file for select orbital positions and radio frequencies. The interest that the Manx government has shown in the space industry has resulted in the island now being the home to over 30 space companies, and with a committed government and tax advantages who can blame them?

The Industry has brought the Island £35m, which is expected to rise to over a billion in the next five years. As well as providing so much to the Manx exchequer the local space programmes have shown a speedy development. Recently the company Excalibur Almaz (EA), an Isle of Man based operation, has announced that it plans on transporting space tourists around the moon and back again by 2015 using 4 disused Russian space capsules. This is a whole year before Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic planned launch of its first commercial flight into orbit. With the private space industry booming, it’s hard to see how without serious dedication, government funded organisations are going to keep up with private ones. It is a shame in a way, as the idea of the noble pioneers of space exploration boldly taking those first giant leaps for mankind fade away into the past; they’re being replaced by the new commercialised business of space travel and tourism. But perhaps that’s too nostalgic, the decommission of the space shuttle earlier this year symbolised that that time has passed and without the incentive of the cold war I doubt the golden age of space travel will return, for a time at least. For now business will carry the space industry forward and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Government dedication to the space programme is all based on public opinion; if there’s no interest in space then it’s hard to justify spending billions of tax payers’ money on getting there. With space faring companies leading the way however, it’s all about competition, who can go further? Who can get there faster? Who can get there cheaper? With this fuelling the space Industry I think it’s looking forward to a healthy future or a prosperous one anyway, one with agencies like NASA or Roscosmos taking a backseat. That is until the Chinese are ready to launch for Mars, no doubt we’ll see a frantic NASA then.

Mr Yellow.

Has Conservation Developed a Crippling Fault?

On June 24th 2012 the global conservation movement lost a symbol of its continuing and much needed struggle to preserve the existence of the world’s rarest organisms. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, a subspecies of Galapagos Giant Tortoise died, leaving the world a little less biodiverse. Hopes of repopulating his kind became dire while he was still alive; several attempts were made throughout Lonesome George’s 40 year captivity to breed him with females of another close relating subspecies however this was to no avail. Perhaps the only consolation is that in recent year’s hybrids of the Pinta and Isabela Island tortoises were discovered on Volcano Wolf by scientists from Yale University. So somewhere out there the memory of Lonesome George’s now extinct subspecies live on.

But is this enough? Could the death of such an icon be the wakeup call that the global conservation movement really needs? The conservation organisation EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) has developed a way to combine evolutionary lineage with the current IUCN endangered species red list to create a new way of identifying the species that need the most effort in order to save them. Using this method they have compiled lists of the 100 top endangered species of mammals, amphibians and birds and the top ten coral species. The usual suspects appear, Pandas, White Rhinos, but the shocking news is that staggering numbers on their lists receive limited or no attention. 66% of the mammals and 85% of the amphibians of the Edge species are being neglected by the global conservation effort.  EDGE is attempting to raise awareness for all the species on their lists and rightly so, if these species continue to be overlooked then they will be lost to the world. This surely should broach the question then, why are all these biologically significant species being overlooked? I can’t help feel that it’s the culture surrounding conservation.

It seems like in order to engage the public with endangered species; the same images have been shown again and again. ‘Adorable’ animals that have suffered because of their destroyed habitats, after all no one wants a ‘cuddly’ panda to suffer now do they? But I think the overuse of this type of imagery has blinded the general public to the threat that so many other species face. Some cases are far dire than that of the Giant Panda, whose publicity has granted it a successful million dollar breeding program. Of course a task like this could never have been undertaken without vast donations. But when you consider that of the between 300 and 400 Pandas that have been bred in captivity in China only one (Xiang Xiang, meaning “Lucky”) has ever been released, only to die due to inability to fend for itself. Wouldn’t the millions that have been donated to a species that has to be artificially inseminated to keep its lineage going, be better spent on other organisms that have a greater chance to eventually survive on their own without human interference? Or organisms that are even more critically endangered?

Zoos all around the world are able to loan pandas from China, prices often go as far as $1 million for a year’s rental. The inherent problem however is that this money can go straight to the breeding programs, producing more Giant Pandas unfit for release into the wild. Over time it’s almost as if what started off as conservation has turned into commercial venture. Some might say that it has also become politically advantageous to artificially breed such a famous animal, as the Chinese government has gifted out many pandas. Most recently during its talks with the Lien Chen in 2005 when Taiwan was vying for independence, China gifted two Pandas to Taiwan.

Is it not immoral then that the donations of well-meaning people, who believe they are helping the conservation of an endangered species, are being spent on methods that will not help reintroduce said endangered species into the wild? And while this money goes on being wasted on creatures ineffectual at their own reproduction, there are hundreds of unique, evolutionary and biologically distinct species that are being neglected just because they don’t have the same publicity or appeal as the ‘cute and cuddly’. This is just my view on a global effort that needs re-evaluating.

Mr Yellow.