We have some HUGE news to share today on The Phoenix Conservancy’s newest restoration project. In a region of Madagascar where nearly all forest is destroyed, a fragile, precious gem has just been discovered. Totaling 3,460 acres in size, a newly-discovered tract of rainforest is sheltered within a sunken valley protected by quartzite mountains in the Ihosy region of southern Madagascar. This glittering rock formation forms a natural barrier to fires that constantly scour the area, leaving an isolated patch of primary forest surrounded by degraded grassland. Reflecting its incalculable value and the sparkling mineral that protects it, this rainforest has been given a fitting name: The Crystal Forest of Ihosy.

The interior of the forest is a riot of life, dominated by ancient tropical hardwood trees draped in vines. Dozens of bird species have been found here, as well as evidence of Madagascar’s iconic cat-like predator, the Fossa. It is a small island of green in a sea of dusty brown, the last tract of forest in an area that used to be covered in trees.

While the forest’s mere existence is a small miracle, the scientists from Centre ValBio that discovered it found something even more astonishing. Sheltered in this tiny tract of forest were two previously undiscovered species of lemur, both of which exist nowhere else on Earth. One is a type of dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus sp.) and one is a new species of diminutive mouse lemur (Microcebus sp.) In addition, they discovered a unique population of the critically-endangered Ring-tailed Lemur (Lemur catta), which had never been documented to live in montane rainforest. Initial biological survey of the area by Centre ValBio biologists also recorded reptile and amphibian species which are likely to be new to science. Several new plant species were found as well, including undescribed species of tropical hardwood trees. Aside from entirely new species, other species that were found in this rainforest were previously thought to only exist in drier habitats hundreds of miles away.

The uniqueness of this forest is obvious, but perhaps even more obvious is its vulnerability to annihilation. To get a sense of scale, this forest is approximately one fifth the size of Manhattan in New York City. Plants and animals living in forest fragments this small are well-documented to be extremely vulnerable to extinction, whether by chance events such as a fire or due to isolation from larger areas of habitat. To prevent this fate, a huge first step has been made in collaboration with community members that call the region home. The local people belong to the Bara ethnic group, vital stewards of The Crystal Forest. The Bara are dependent on the water and resources The Crystal Forest provides, and have voiced their desires to protect the forest. In response to this, our partners, The Rainforest Trust and Centre ValBio, have worked with community groups to establish the Lost Forest Reserve. This vital step has secured the forest from development, but unchecked fires remain a constant threat. Every year, fires set to improve grazing encroach further into the forest. Breaks in the natural barrier allow sparks to blow into the reserve, burning more forest every year. Without immediate action, the plants and animals that live here are likely doomed to extinction, before scientists can even describe them.

With your help, this terrible possibility never has to happen.

As restoration partners in this amazing project, The Phoenix Conservancy’s priority is to fund the construction of multiple rings of fire protection around the entire forest to halt encroaching fires well before they reach the forest. As fire breaks are put in place, we are working to establish nurseries for native plant species. These nurseries will produce thousands of seedlings to restore degraded areas, regenerating degraded scrub back into rainforest. Each of these steps provides employment opportunities for local residents, improving the lives of the communities that protect and depend on the forest.

 

What You Can Do ?

To get involved, there are several things you can do right now to help save this forest from destruction:

  • Share this article, and like us on Facebook
  • Pick up our new T-shirt in the store to show your support for the Ihosy project
  • Donate to the project here
  • Sign up for our newsletter to stay posted on our progress

While we are in a race against time to protect this incredible ecosystem from fire destruction, the great news is that each dollar goes a very long way on this project. For perspective, just one dollar could be measured in one of several ways:

  • Three seedlings grown in a native plant nursery
  • Ten feet of firebreak constructed
  • Ten square feet of degraded land replanted

At each stage of the project, the vast majority of funds raised goes to improving the lives of local employees. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries of the world, with a minimum wage of just $600 per year. With that in mind, every dollar also improves the lives of Malagasy families working to preserve the world’s biodiversity.

All of us here at The Phoenix Conservancy are truly thrilled about this project, and we hope you are too. As an organization devoted to restoring endangered ecosystems on a local, national, and global level, Madagascar represents a huge opportunity to bring some of the world’s most unique and precious ecosystems back from the ashes.

“Photo curtesy of Centre ValBio