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Clock ticks for Madagascar's lemurs
by Staff Writers
Ranomafana, Madagascar (AFP) Oct 20, 2013

Philippines probes death of rare eagle released in wild
Manila (AFP) Oct 19, 2013 - Wildlife authorities said Saturday they are investigating the death of a rare Philippine eagle, one of the world's largest and most endangered raptors, shortly after it was captured by a local resident.

The carcass of the giant bird, belonging to a species that is threatened with extinction, was recovered from a resident of Gingoog city on the southern island of Mindanao, the Philippine Eagle Foundation said.

It had only been released into the wild by conservationists two months earlier.

"Minalwang (the name given to the bird by the foundation) was captured. The bird died of infection that had been aggravated by its captivity," the foundation's communications officer Beauxy Auxtero told AFP.

She would not discuss the cause of the infection, nor comment on a statement by a government wildlife official that the eagle, a juvenile male, had been shot to death.

Auxtero said the Gingoog resident who had captured the bird had not been placed under arrest.

The bird had two bullet wounds, Josie de Leon, wildlife resources division chief of the environment department's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, told AFP earlier Saturday.

Killing endangered species in the Philippines is punishable by a 12-year prison term and stiff fines, she added.

"Our people are gathering information on who might have killed it," de Leon said.

The young male was believed to be less than a year old when it was captured for the first time by another Gingoog resident in 2011, Auxtero said.

The foundation, a non-government outfit based in the Mindanao city of Davao, retrieved the bird from the resident and nursed it back to health.

The bird was fitted with a radio transmitter and let go at the Mount Balatukan natural park near Gingoog two months ago, the fifth Philippine eagle rescued by the foundation and released back into the wild, said Auxtero.

The Philippine eagle, found only on four of the Philippines' largest islands but mostly on Mindanao, grows to a metre (3.3 feet) with a two-metre wingspan.

Famed for its elongated nape feathers that form into a shaggy crest, it is considered "critically endangered" by the Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The group says there could be as few as 250 individuals left in the wild due to the depletion of its tropical rainforest habitat and hunting.

A Mindanao farmer was arrested in 2008 after he confessed to shooting and eating another male Philippine eagle.

The bird, named Kagsabua, had been released on Mount Kitanglad just four months earlier by the foundation after it was shot and and wounded by game hunters at the Kitanglad range.

Five years later, the case is still on trial but the suspect is temporarily out of jail after posting a 100,000-peso ($2,322) bail, de Leon said.

Immortalised in the hit cartoon "Madagascar", real-life lemurs face extinction within 20 years short of drastic action to tackle the poverty driving islanders to poach the primates and destroy their habitat.

Each year that passes hastens the decline of the saucer-eyed primates, as the Indian Ocean island's people struggle for survival amid a drawn-out political crisis.

"As long as there is poverty, we can't expect to prevent the lemurs' extinction," said primatologist Jonah Ratsimbazafy from the University of Antananarivo.

Cast as a lovable bunch in the "Madagascar" movies, lemurs occur in the wild only on the island, having evolved separately from their cousins the African ape over millions of years.

Madagascar is home to 105 different species of lemur, accounting for 20 percent of the world's species of primate, in an area spanning less than one percent of the global habitat of all primates.

But crop burnings and wild fires destroy 200,000 hectares of Madagascar's forest a year. And the 13 percent of its natural forest that remains may disappear within a generation, according to Ratsimbazafy.

"If this rate of deforestation continues you could say that within 20 to 25 years there won't be any forest left, so no lemurs either," he said.

Ninety-three of the 105 known lemur species are on the endangered list.

Woodcutters hunt them for food

An estimated 92 percent of Madagascar's people live on less than a $2 a day, and social conditions have worsened on the island since its leader Andry Rajoelina seized power in 2009 with the help of the army.

Most foreign aid was suspended, bringing the economy to its knees and putting the country at risk of a food crisis -- a situation exacerbated by a locust plague this year.

The broke state has scheduled a presidential election for later this month aimed at ending the four-year political crisis.

The island's blossoming tourist industry also suffered a blow this month following the mob lynching of two Europeans and a local man accused of killing a boy on the Madagascan tourist island of Nosy Be.

The deadly riots sparked travel warnings from several countries including France and the United States.

Meanwhile locals eke out a living where they can -- including by looting precious woods, minerals and lemurs from the forest around them.

Small-scale woodcutters also hunt the animals for food while searching for rosewood, according to Tovonanahary Rasolofoharivelo, another primate expert.

"Often they don't bring enough to eat and woodcutting is hard work, so they eat lemur meat because the animals are easier to catch than birds."

Gold-diggers are pushing into the forest too, chipping away at the lemur's habitat.

Rangers have to travel far, often camping on the way, to track the diggers, said a guide from the Ranomafana National Park in the southeast of the island.

"There are many gold prospectors in the park. You can earn up to 100,000 ariary ($46, 35 euros) per gramme of gold," said the guide, who asked not to be named.

And all the while, crop fields are steadily encroaching on the forest, a little more each year.

"In tropical countries like Madagascar the soil is very, very poor," explained Ratsimbazafy.

"One year a farmer plants here, next year he moves, again, and again, and afterwards you have deforestation, the desert."

A coalition of conservationist groups have launched an international campaign to raise around $8 million, in a do-or-die effort to reverse the trend.

The three-year programme aims to help provide alternative livelihoods for the local population, in addition to tourism and agricultural programmes that have been running for a few years.

"We try to finance money-generating activities like planting beans, and pig, chicken or fish farming, so that people in the countryside stop destroying the forest," said Benjamin Andriamihaja, local representative of the US-based Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE).

"But it's difficult to compensate for the lack of revenue of locals who don't think long-term," he added.

An international conference was held in August to discuss conservation strategies near the Ranomafana park.

These days, at the entrance of the 40,000-hectare reserve, tour guides and self-styled trackers sit waiting for tourists to arrive.

But their numbers have dwindled compared to a year ago, with small-scale smuggling simply a more lucrative option for many.


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