Mongabay

Conservation in a weak state: Madagascar struggles with enforcement

Today, parts of the park have become “zones rouges,” or “red zones” for MNP. “Some places we can’t go,” said Blandine Razafiajafara, one of the community patrol agents who had come to town for her pay, “and some places we can’t go except with the police.”

Sitting in her office in July, park director Josiane Rakotonirina pulled up maps overlaid with a color-coded grid showing how frequently each small quadrant had been patrolled in the first six months of the year. Some had been visited once a month, others not at all. Still others had been patrolled only by a “brigade mixte,” an inter-agency team comprised of community patrol agents, MNP officers and their counterparts from the forest service, along with local and national police and soldiers from the army. “To go in zones with illegal mining, a brigade mixte is the only option,” she said.

At the end of 2016, Rakotonirina orchestrated a series of brigades mixtes to counteract the largest mining encampments discovered to-date. They estimated there were as many as 800 miners in the park, using shovels and crude wooden sluices and living in makeshift thatch lean-tos. Many were armed, fueling speculation that their rudimentary equipment masked a well-organized effort with outside funding. As Ranomafana’s mayor, José Manarinsoa, explained, “Miners have groceries and supplies for several months: someone must be financing it.”

While the efforts were successful in stopping mining temporarily, robust enforcement is costly. In 2016, brigades mixtes required more than 1,000 person-days in the field, all told, along with car rentals and supplies, with MNP footing the bill. In a park that covers 280 square miles of dense rainforest, Rakotonirina said, MNP was able to conduct two brigades mixtes a month, thanks to a grant from the Madagascar Biodiversity Fund, a national foundation that supports Madagascar’s protected area system. “We can only do what we can do,” she said. “We need reinforcements.”

These are the vehicles available to the gendarmes, or police, working in Ranomafana National Park. “When someone attacks even five kilometers away, we have to hitchhike to get to the incident,” the local police commander said. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.
These are the vehicles available to the gendarmes, or police, working in Ranomafana National Park. “When someone attacks even five kilometers away, we have to hitchhike to get to the incident,” the local police commander said. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.
A male Calumma crypticum chameleon in Ranomafana National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
A male Calumma crypticum chameleon in Ranomafana National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“No lemurs, no money”

Because of the way the Malagasy conservation sector is organized, most international funding flows through parastatal organizations like MNP that are affiliated with, but independent of the government — rather than directly through government agencies. In the words of one forester, the result is a situation where groups like MNP “have all the resources and none of the authority for enforcement,” while the forest service and law enforcement agencies have “all the authority and none of the resources.”

At the start, the purpose of this arrangement was to shield conservation groups from the influence of political corruption, but it has also contributed to an environment where police don’t have the wherewithal to conduct operations that have a direct effect on protected areas. After the attack on taxis-brousse in Vohiparara, the local police commander said, it took him more than an hour to find a borrowed car with enough gas to travel seven miles to the crime scene. “This is not like where you’re from in the U.S. or France,” he said. “When someone attacks even five kilometers away, we have to hitchhike to get to the incident.”

Mamy Rakotorijaona, the director of operations for MNP, says interventions in protected areas are widely perceived as beyond the scope of work for police officers. “Already, the police ask for lots of money when you ask them to come into the park,” he said. The perceived danger of interacting with gold miners has strained collaboration. “If we start talking about Kalashnikovs, they’ll ask for even more money, even though it’s supposed to be their job,” said Rakotorijaona. In Ranomafana, police have lobbied for an increase of the per diem payments they receive for participating in brigades mixtes, from 20,000 ariary to 36,000, or from about 7 to 12 dollars.

White spotted reed frog (Heterixalus alboguttatus) in Ranomafana National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Other parks have faced similar incursions, sometimes far more dramatic than those in Ranomafana. In the Corridor Ankeniheny Zahamena, farther north, tens of thousands of miners streamed into a protected area last fall after the discovery of a rich sapphire deposit. In 2009, incursions by armed gangs of rosewood loggers forced staff at Marojejy National Park to abandon their posts and close the park to visitors for two months.

Rakotonirina underlined the importance of persuading high-ranking officials and politicans of the value of conservation and the need for robust enforcement, a task complicated by the fact that environmental crimes are often assumed to be the work of Madagascar’s political class. Several of Madagascar’s most prominent rosewood operators, for instance, are also representatives in Parliament.

Recently, BIANCO, Madagascar’s national anti-corruption office, has referred a number of rosewood cases for prosecution, including several that have landed traffickers in jail, albeit temporarily. “What we see over the course of several years is that they always find a way to get out after a few months—with official permission,” said Tsiry Razafimandimby, a spokesman for BIANCO. “The traffickers take orders from high-ranking officials. Somehow, it’s like they’re employees, with politicians that play a role of facilitator and protector.”

That’s an area where Daniel Whyner of USAID says foreigners can and should play a bigger role. “We’re not the only actors in-country: there are influences we can use through [the] State Department, through our relationships with the government on security, through [the Department of Defense], we can bring to bear on the problem.”

The Malagasy primatologist Jonah Ratsimbazafy believes donors should go one step further and cut off all government support if certain conditions aren’t met. With regard to the influx of miners in Zahamena, “I would say, by the end of the year, this problem should be solved: no lemurs, no money,” Ratsimbazafy said. “I think at some stage, you have to do that. When it’s getting better, you can release, but there are times you need to be strict, you need to be tough. That’s the carrot and the stick.”

Many of the same donors who fund conservation work have been around the table for broad-based initiatives like Madagascar’s recent $900 million pitch to overhaul security, which includes everything from reducing corruption among traffic cops to stemming the flow of illegal firearms. In 2014, then Prime Minister Roger Kolo got support from the UN’s World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization for a campaign to convince dahalos to disarm and re-enter society with incentives like regional food aid and supplies for farming.

But only a tiny fraction of Madagascar’s conservation funding has explicitly sought to address issues of corruption and rule of law. Most recently, in 2016, Alliance Voahary Gasy, a coalition of civil society groups, got funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement an anti-trafficking strategy for endangered ploughshare (Astrochelys yniphora) and radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata). Other efforts have primarily related to rosewood. The World Bank and USAID, for instance, have each funded technical reports on governance and small-scale programs to improve monitoring of illegal logging.

Maria Adeline Hantamalala, center, said losing their livestock to thieves pushed her husband and several other men in the settlement of Ankialo to leave home to work several hours away for part of the year. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.
Maria Adeline Hantamalala, center, said losing their livestock to thieves pushed her husband and several other men in a settlement near Ranomafana National Park to leave home to work several hours away for part of the year. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.

Life amid lawlessness

Maria Adeline Hantamalala, a 32-year old mother of four, lives in a small settlement called Ankialo outside of Ambalakindresy. In the past two years, she said, all eight of her neighbors’ homes had been robbed at least once. “Two years ago, the dahalo here, they would only take the zebus,” she said. But now, there are no zebus left, so they take geese and ducks and pots and pans and everything in the house.” They even took pigs some people had been given as part of an animal husbandry program run by Centre ValBio, she said.

It got so bad that her husband and other men from Ankialo had gone to the city of Ambalavao, several hours away, to look for work as carpenters, Hantamalala said. Others, from communities nearby, had turned to gold mining. “We know the effects of cutting trees and digging gold. But some people are very poor, they need food, so they go to do it,” she said. “We’re afraid of the park because we know the rules — if the park catches you they send you to the police.”

Park officials have to walk a delicate line between pushing for stronger enforcement — choking off access points to the forest — and devoting more resources to agriculture or handicraft programs that will make mining a less appealing source of income to people that live near the park. If they are to succeed in keeping mining from mushrooming to the proportions it reached in Zahamena, it will be thanks in part to cooperation from civil servants like Manarinsoa, and Ratsimbazafy, the late mayor of Ambalakindresy.

“My husband never had a community meeting where he didn’t discuss conservation,” Razafiandravao, the mayor’s widow, told Mongabay. She is still waiting for police to make their first arrest, or provide more information about the particulars of her husband’s murder.

“Since this is Madagascar, we’ll never get the whole story” said Pat Wright, the founder of Centre ValBio who was instrumental in the creation of the national park. The local consensus seems to be that the hit had more to do with Ratsimbazafy’s push to repel dahalo from Ambalkindresy than with his opposition to gold mining.

What is undeniable, though, is that conservationists lost a valuable collaborator. For the “critical assumptions” that undergird conservation efforts to come true — “fear of retribution will not overly deter community participation in advocacy and judicial processes” — men and women like him will have to be protected.

Banner image: A girl peeks out of a window in the settlement of Ankialo, where all eight homes have been robbed at least once in the last two years. Thieves have knocked out enough bricks to enter through holes in the wall, and used axes to chop through the front door. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.

Rowan Moore Gerety is a reporter and radio producer based in Miami. Read more of his work at www.rowanmg.com.

This is the second part of Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar” being published during the fall of 2017. The entire series will be collected here.

Elysé Arsène Ratsimbazafy, the local mayor, was murdered in June and buried in a family tomb near his home in of Ambalakindresy. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.
Elysé Arsène Ratsimbazafy, the local mayor, was murdered in June and buried in a family tomb near his home in of Ambalakindresy. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay.
Orchids in Ranomafana National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Orchids in Ranomafana National Park. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.