The Endangered Rosewood Trees of Madagascar Continue to Fall under the Axe

by Lucy Ji, age 13

Environmental issues are hot topics these days. The Earth’s great glaciers are melting, oceans are more polluted, and many animal species are being pushed to extinction. The following account, however, is little known. But it is something that needs to be brought to our attention.   

For about a decade, there has been an illegal trade in the precious Rosewood trees in Madagascar. This rare tree has become one of the most desirable rarest trees in the world, primarily because the great Rosewood forests in Asia are now all but gone. Industries in China are the top customers for this tree; the rich red color is popular when making furniture and wooden instruments made in China and then exported all over the world. Ten years ago, this illegal trade took place on a very small scale, but it has increased by almost 25 times in just the past few years.   

So far, the government of Madagascar has offered no help in solving this crisis.

“The government does nothing to stop this because it shares in the profit,” says Ndranto Razakamanarina, the president of an environmental group in Madagascar. “Many ministers think they’ll be in office only three or six months so they decide to make money while they can. The timber mafia is corrupt, the ministers are corrupt.”

More than $167,000,000 worth of this valuable tree was cut down in the past year. More is soon to follow. The tree is so scarce that even the men who have explored the forest since they were children can take several days just to find one.   

The reason this trade represents an environmental crisis is because of the resulting loss of habitat poses a significant threat to Madagascar’s biodiversity. The island’s stretches of savannah grasslands, dry desert, and rich rainforests contain over 14,000 unique species of plants.About 90 percent of these species cannot be found anywhere else on our planet. The loss of these trees will affect the entire world.   

In the past, the government tried to stop the smuggling of the trees and fined the exporters, with minimal effect. The profit in selling the trees outweighed the relatively small fine. The exporters paid the fine and just continued what they were doing.

“The rosewood is piled up near the rivers; no one is trying to hide anything. Chinese businessmen pay the exporters and they in turn pay off the police and the government,” according to Guy Suzon Ramangason, the director general of an organization that manages national parks in Madagascar.   

However, Madagascar is among one of the poorest nations in the world. The men that cut down the trees earn a mere $2.50 a day to hike into the deep rainforest from dawn till dusk. Many of these men are elderly. The issue their only means of survival against saving the environment. While debate rages on all sides of this issue, the bottom line is something must be done immediately to save a rare and important tree species.

[Source: The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal]