President Marc Ravalomanana's government increased the island-nation's protected territory by a combined area larger than Cyprus at the end of 2005. The latest expansion, under the leadership of Minister for the Environment Hon. Gen. Sylvain Rabotoarison, keeps Madagascar on track to fulfill President Ravalomanana's 2003 pledge to triple his nation's total protected areas to 6 million hectares (14.82 million acres or 23,000 square miles) by 2008.
"It is important to stress the positive impact biodiversity conservation has on economic development," President Ravalomanana said. "It is essential to use nature conservation to generate a great sense of pride among the population of Madagascar for our unique biodiversity."
Madagascar's program is a model for developing world governments faced with the choice of exploiting natural resources for a one-time payoff or conserving natural assets so the economy and local communities benefit from them in perpetuity. Other nations opting for conservation and long-term benefits include Costa Rica, Suriname and Equatorial Guinea.
The unique biodiversity of Madagascar, with thousands of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth, has been under threat for decades from forest destruction, illegal wildlife trade and other problems. Researchers estimate that more than 85 percent of the original forest cover has disappeared.
Conservation International (CI) and other groups working in Madagascar hailed President Ravalomanana's global leadership in committing to protect his nation's unique flora and fauna.