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BBC/UN - Million-dollar beds fuel Madagascar timber crisis

Million-dollar beds fuel Madagascar timber crisis
GLOBAL WITNESS:The recently-implemented Lacey Act, in the US, which makes an offence of importing illegally-logged timber, has reportedly deterred many buyers in the US. Last year it led to authorities mounting a raid on the world-famous Gibson guitar company over allegedly illegal Madagascan rosewood. However, it has not deterred the Chinese, who import over 98% of illegally harvested Ebony, Rosewoo from national parks.

Soaring demand in China and political unrest in Madagascar are fuelling illegal logging for hardwoods in the African nation, a report concludes. Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) talked to loggers, government agencies and traders to compile their report.

In China, they discovered beds on sale for $1m, made from Madagascan wood. The report was launched at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya, Japan.

Madagascan politics is split between factions associated with ex-President Marc Ravalomana and the rival who ousted him in a 2009 coup, Andry Rajoelina. Conservation groups have previously warned that illegal extraction of timber and wildlife could flourish in this milieu, but the EIA/Global Witness is the first investigation to show the scale of the problem. "The pre-existing problem of illegal logging was turned into a flood of tree-cutting in national parks, and a flood of wood out of Madagascar to China and the West," said Alexander von Bismarck, EIA's executive director. Felling the three species concerned - ebony, rosewood and pallisander - is forbidden, but the government has issued permits cheaply for traders to export stockpiles, which led to further logging.

The two organisations were asked by Madagascar's national parks service to conduct the investigation. This official endorsement enabled them to access records in government departments, such as cargo manifests and trade data. But most of the details emerged through contact with the loggers and traders, who appeared - in written accounts and in video produced during the investigations - not at all concerned with keeping their activities under wraps. Instead they were keen to take the investigators, posing as buyers, into the heart of the logging zone (A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE). "Within one day we had the staff of the top boss in [the town of] Antalaha saying 'we'll take you into the National Park and show you where we cut wood for this German buyer'," Mr von Bismarck recounted.

EIA and Global Witness also went undercover in China and other countries, discussing with people in the furniture trade where the wood came from and how much it was worth.

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