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July 25-August 10, 2006

The way we treat the world is unnatural
Tues, Aug 22, 2006
By Kirin Furst

Unbelievably, I'm writing my last column while on a plane between Madagascar and one of its larger islands, Nosy Be. Our itinerary has been so hectic and unforgiving that I do not have the time to write a well thought-out piece, but the things I have seen over the past two weeks prompt me to discuss a few very important issues involving conservation (or lack thereof) of the world's natural havens.

The name Madagascar stimulates the imagination with images of lush green tropical forest teeming with wildlife. The truth is, I'm lucky to be here now; due to the spread of mass agriculture, the population and consumer demands around the world, as much as 90 percent of Madagascar's natural forest has been slashed and burned into oblivion. As incredible as that number sounds, the destruction of natural growth is continuing, destroying more and more endemic plant species found nowhere else in the world.

The majority of all species in Madagascar are found absolutely nowhere else, and every year a substantial list of new species are discovered and classified. There is still so little known about the majority of the lemur species, as well as the islands' other endangered mammals. They have been hunted and rendered homeless to such an extent that only a fraction of these endearing creatures can still be found in the wild. Sixteen known species of lemur are already extinct, and the rest are on the verge of following, accompanied by much of Madagascar's plant and animal life.

On the island of Nosy Be, we drove past ylang ylang farms where the rainforest has been cleared to make room for these trees that produce a flower with a remarkable odor. Ylang ylang flowers are the basis for perfumes such as the popular Chanel No. 5. Because of the consumer demand for these perfumes, beautiful and unique species will continue to disappear in order to provide the ladies of the Western world with vogue fragrance.

It is this lack of foresight that dooms the human race to a selfish, suicidal destruction. The coral reefs off the shores of Madagascar used to undulate with masses of beautiful exotic fish. Now most of the reefs have been destroyed and the fish netted and shipped to pet stores for people who will kill them with the wrong diet.

The recently elected president of Madagascar has made some strides toward conservation of remaining natural places, but as long as the remote tribal people continue to either not receive the memo or ignore the laws protecting their world, the forest will continue to be demolished for charcoal and building materials, or burned to create farm land, and its animal inhabitants sold into captivity or hunted despite laws prohibiting this.

The time to care about sustaining our world is now. As a consumer, you have an impact every day. Know where your products come from or be responsible for extinction.

We stand on the edge of a barren future. Whether you'll recognize it or not, we will all suffer together in a world without natural resources; not just water and oil, but forest and creatures.

I imagine we'll all feel pretty stupid when it's gone.


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