Published: September 2010


Madagascar Baobabs

Madagascar’s Pierced Heart

The island’s geographic isolation created a wonderland of biological richness. Now population pressures and political turmoil speed the plunder of its rosewood, minerals, and gems.

By Robert Draper
Photograph by Pascal Maitre

The young man in the shorts and sleeveless T-shirt stands in his pirogue and pulls it upstream with a long bamboo pole. The Onive River is shallow and moves swiftly against him. Overhead a brooding sky opens up and dispenses barrages of rain, then sunlight, then more rain. The young man, whose name is Remon, is as heedless of the weather as the crocodiles lying prostrate on the shore.

Gliding past him in the opposite direction, one every three minutes, are other piroguemen. Remon calls out to them; they holler back. They are his river mates, each ferrying a dark, monstrous log of illegally harvested rosewood downstream from the rain forest to the lumberyards in the northeastern Madagascan city of Antalaha. There a paycheck awaits. Once Remon drops us off at the edge of the forest, he will do the same.

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