Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Madagascar's bid to save its majestic baobab trees

By Errol Barnett and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN
September 3, 2012 -- Updated 0916 GMT (1716 HKT)
The spectacular baobab trees are a landmark of Madagascar, a large island located off the southeastern African coast. The spectacular baobab trees are a landmark of Madagascar, a large island located off the southeastern African coast.
HIDE CAPTION
Madagascar's baobab trees
Madagascar's baobab trees
Madagascar's baobab trees
Madagascar's beautiful forests
Madagascar's baobab trees
Deforestation threat
Deforestation threat
Deforestation threat
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Six out of the eight species of the baobab tree are endemic to Madagascar
  • The island is home to a vast array of animal and plant life
  • Madagascar has lost 90% of its forest to deforestation
  • The government is trying to protect the forests by marking areas as national parks

Antananarivo, Madagascar (CNN) -- With their unique shape and imposing stature, the majestic baobab trees have been an icon of Madagascar's landscape for centuries, unmovable symbols of the tropical island's luscious scenery.

Six out of the eight species of the long-lived tree are endemic to Madagascar, the island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.

The stunning country is home to a rich ecosystem that boasts an incredible mosaic of animal and plant life evolved for tens of millions of years in complete isolation. As a result 90% of Madagascar's wildlife exists nowhere else on the planet.

In the midst of it all, the mighty baobab has stood tall for generations, its barrel-like trunk reaching a height of 18 meters.

Madagascar's struggle with deforestation
Historic town boasts foreign influences

Often described as "the upside down tree" due to its unusual shape -- the tree's branches look like roots sticking up in the air -- the baobab has sparked many legends throughout the centuries. An ancient myth goes that when the gods planted the trees, they kept walking away so they placed them upside down.

Read related: Madagascar's 'lemur lady' on saving endangered animals

Stunning views at Ankarana National Park

Communities in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, have long been benefiting from the deciduous trees -- their fruits are edible, their leaves are used for medicinal purposes, while their large trunks are often excavated to serve as shelters or store water during dry periods.

"There are many interactions with the life of community living around forest," explains botanist Jimmy Razafitsalama.

"First, they use the bark for the construction of their house and then they use leaves as medicinal plants. They eat also the fruit because the fruit are very rich in vitamins and don't forget also it's one of the attraction for tourists to come here."

But while tourism proceeds can generate income for people often living on less than $2 a day, many other human activities are posing a serious threat to the baobab trees and the island's one-of-a-kind ecosystem.

Largely dependent on the island's natural resources, many rural communities in Madagascar have to make ends meet by exploiting the land that surrounds them -- the country is estimated to have lost 90% of its forest to deforestation over the years.

Environmentalists say that activities like slash-and-burn agriculture -- where an area of forest is cut and burned to create fields -- logging for timber and fuelwood and charcoal production are all destroying the island's beautiful rainforests and their endemic biodiversity.

"They cut the trees down to clear the land for agriculture or for grazing their animals," says Razafitsalama, who has moved to the island's northernmost part near the city of Diego Suarez to teach locals about biodiversity.

In recent years, authorities in Madagascar have taken up a series of initiatives to save its precious forests. The country has launched several conservation and reforestation projects and has also marked many regions in the country as national parks, attracting ecotourists from across the world.

Razafitsalama says that more needs to be done to safeguard the future of the baobab trees and the vast array of unique species living in Madagascar's forests.

"Now the government they want to increase the surface of protected areas. They made a big effort but right now I see for baobab it's not yet representative," he says.

"A good example is this forest in front of us -- it is not protected but this has the highest concentration of population of this endemic species."

Unless more action is taken and behaviors change, Madagascar, one of the world's true biodiversity hotspots, will risk losing more of its forests, putting in danger the survival of its unique species.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
CNN's Zain Verjee took on Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in a bid to see its mountain gorillas.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
"The Samaritans" is a new Kenyan comedy that takes a mocking look at the world of inept African aid organizations.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A Moroccan food blogger presents her interactive guide to the country's tastiest dishes.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
A Cameroon supporter smiles during celebrations after Cameroon qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after winning the second leg qualifying football match between Cameroon and Tunisia on November 17, 2013 in Yaounde.
Known for its diverse geography and culture, Cameroon could be on the dawn of becoming known for tourism.
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
The world's only "Flying Eye Hospital" is a DC-10 jet that flies around the world carrying out sight-saving operations.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, explodes spilling lava down the mountain sides and shooting ash into the sky October 30, 2002 near the town of Nicolosi, near Catania, Italy.
A Kenyan TV production set in the year 2063 imagines a world where European refugees are fleeing to Africa.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Tour d'Afrique
The Tour d'Afrique is a four-month, 12,000 km cycle race across the length of Africa.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT