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Home > Last Stand > Ecotourism

Claude Razafimahaimodison
The ornithologist's research in Ranomafana suggests that tourists are affecting the reproductive cycle of the ptita-like gounder.

Tourism is Madagascarís leading industry. And 60 percent of foreign visitors journey to at least one the country's protected reserves. So, by helping to attract tourists, the forests are proving to be an important economic resource.

The Ranomafana National Park was created in 1991 after two species of bamboo lemur were discovered -- one believed extinct; the other previously unknown to science. The park now covers 170 square miles of mountainous terrain with a diversity of wildlife greater than that of almost any other rain forest in the world. While there were virtually no visitors to Ranomafana in 1991, approximately 11,000 foreigners visited the park in 1999.

Portions of the park's entrance fees are distributed to villages that surround the park -- a total of about $50,000 a year. This is a substantial sum by Madagascar standards, and the money is used for development projects like building dams to increase production of rice grown in valley paddies, thereby taking pressure off forested slopes. Tourists and scientists who visit Ranomafana also contribute to the local economy by staying in the many small hotels nearby, eating in restaurants and purchasing handicrafts and other goods.

Still, some critics suggest the benefits of ecotourism may be overstated. Ornithologist Jean Claude Razafimahaimodison has shown that at least one bird, the pitta-like ground roller, suffers from too many visitors. And another researcher says the economic benefits are distributed too narrowly to have much of an impact on the rural poor, who continue to make their livelihoods by encroaching on the forests.

Ranomafana Photogallery: Flora, Fauna, and Wildlife
One of Madagascar's largest nation parks contains an abudance of tropical life including a previously unknown species of lemur. Hear from the lemur's discoverer and see photographs of the inhabitants of the preserve.

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