Earthwatch Volunteers Spot Rare Madagascar Creature

By B. McPherson

                                         Illegally Harvested Rosewood Threatens Forest

A volunteer working under the guidance of Dr. Luke Dollar(Duke University) whose work is bringing attention to rare carnivores on the island of Madagascar has scored a major victory. A sharp eyed volunteer worker spotted the elusive and rare western falnaouc (Eupleres goudoti major) and managed to snap a photo of the little critter. This is the first time that an image of the falanouc has been captured in the wild.
These little creatures are about the size of a large house cat and eat mostly worms and insects. They are classified as endangered due to competition with humans, dogs and habitat destruction.

Earthwatch is a non profit organization that arranges for people to volunteer to work with scientists in the field. They pay their own way, but are able to work on real field science and often are able to interact with local populations. Dr. Dollar was a student volunteer when he first encountered what would become his life work.

The island of Madagascar separated from mainland Africa millions of years ago which has resulted in the evolution of unique species of plants and animals many found nowhere else. Since colonization by Europeans, much of the biota has been under siege from predation by dogs, cats and hunters. Much of the dry land forest has been removed in order to harvest valuable woods and to convert the land to agriculture.

Traditionally, an important crop has been rice. While some groups cultivate on the flatter areas other practice slash and burn agriculture, planting mountain rice and corn. When the soil is exhausted, they move on. While slash and burn agriculture has been made illegal, it is still practised.

A new threat to the biodiversity of Madagascar is being introduced with the leasing of large tracts of land by foreign corporations in order to establish industrial farming. A couple of years ago the South Korean corporation Daiwoo proposed to lease 1.9 million hectares of agricultural land. The deal fell through and the government was under siege and eventually toppled  for entertaining such a deal.

The confirmation and photographs of the shy western falanouc give impetus to those trying to preserve the untouched forests of this unique island.


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