National Geographic : 2010 Sep
out-of-court settlement. Charged again in 2009, unam was found not guilty. e timber baron can once more be found behind his ebony desk, presiding over a humming lumberyard. , a former park employee named Rabe, has been into the forest over a hun- dred times in the past decade. He keeps up a brisk and barefoot pace through a tangled, claus- trophobic wilderness, seeing it with intimate familiarity. But to his surprise, something has changed since his last visit a few months before. "No lemurs," he says. " ey've disappeared." e rosewood thieves are behind this. Weary of a rice-only diet, they have begun to lay traps. We learn of one team that captured 16 lemurs in a single day. Not all of them are being eaten on the spot. In the town of Sambava, just north of Antalaha, three restaurants feature lemurs on their menu, despite federal laws. In this way the rain forests of northeastern Madagascar are rapidly losing the red ru ed, the fork-marked, the greater dwarf, and the aye-aye. Lemurs are found in no other country on Earth, save the nearby Comoros islands. "We don't want to conserve an empty forest, where the only thing you can come to see is trees," says primatologist Jonah Ratsimbazafy of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. For all of Madagascar's ecological richness, central to its multimillion-dollar tourist trade is its quintes- sential mascot, attested to by the thousands who visit the Analamazaotra Special Reserve. ese bug-eyed, tree-dwelling primates fascinate not only because they are here and only here, but also because they are here in such diversity. ough virtually all 50 species of lemurs are polyga- mous, have luxurious tails, and many tend to grunt like pigs, there's also the black-and-white indri, which is monogamous, has no tail, and rocks the forest with spectral wails. Incredibly, scientists continue to discover new species of lemurs on the island. But each species is few in number, and in the meantime, ve di erent lemurs inhabit the list of the world's 25 most endangered primates. As yet, no national outpouring of sympathy for the lemur's plight has emerged. e Malagasy "should be proud of lemurs because Madagas- car's the only place for them," says Ratsimba- zafy. "But some people here don't know or care. e Malagasy who don't live near tourist areas think that lemurs are just for the vazaha [white people]---they don't see the bene ts." In fact, although some tribes consider certain species of lemur to be sacred, the rather alarming-looking aye-aye, with its outsize eyes and ears, is believed by tribes in the north to be an evil omen and is therefore killed on the spot. Such taboos have governed Malagasy con- duct for centuries. ey're admonitions from the ancestors, believed to linger on Earth as intermediaries to the afterlife and, therefore, to be heeded and appeased---sometimes, as I witnessed, through famadihana, a ceremony in which ancestors' bones are dug up, ceremonially wrapped in fresh white shrouds, and danced with around the tomb before being returned to the earth. In di erent tribes, it's fady to touch a cha- meleon or to talk about crocodiles or to eat pork or to work on ursdays. Numerous fady prohibit the desecration of a mountain, a large boulder, a stand of trees, or even an entire forest---all evi- dence of a deep, if complicated, connection to the land and a spiritual investment in its good health. Nonetheless, the fady that tend to be heeded most reliably are those that do not col- lide with the Malagasy verity that it's better to die tomorrow. " " says Olivier Behra, pointing to a conspicuously deforested swath DESPITE THE MONEY PAID TO THE CUTTERS, THE RAFTERS, THE COPS, THE MIDDLEMEN THE LION'S SHARE GOES TO THE TIMBER BARONS.