Madagascar: A Unique Ecosystem Threatened by Illicit Trade

As a result of the island’s geological isolation from neighboring continents over the ages, Madagascar is home to an exuberant diversity of natural life. Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found on the island are endemic, including the emblematic lemurs.

Fragile and unique Malagasy ecosystems have unfortunately been facing growing threats. Over the past fifty years, the country has lost over 40 percent of its forest cover. Precious timber, especially ebonies (Diospyros spp.), rosewoods and palisanders (Dalbergia spp.), is today found only in remote forest areas, most of which are classified as National Parks. Illegal logging of precious timber is a serious threat to these fragile ecosystems, and to the livelihoods of forest communities.

Demand from Asia driving forest loss despite international attention

Since 2000, to address a rapid increase in illegal and unsustainable exploitation, the government of Madagascar has imposed a series of bans on the harvest and export of rosewoods and ebonies. This course of action led to a ban on all harvesting in 2006, and culminated in an export ban, effective since 2010. Enforcement of these bans has resulted in significant stockpiles of illegally harvested logs. Proper management of these stocks is of critical importance to halting illegal harvesting, since timber traffickers have been using the existence of Malagasy rosewood and ebony stockpiles as a cover to launder freshly cut timber.

In 2013, Madagascar listed its populations of rosewood and ebony on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) offering additional protections to the highly threatened species. Under this listing, the country also agreed on the implementation of a dedicated “Action Plan,” which includes specific measures such as the assessment of the status of current standing populations, the inventory of the existing stockpiles, as well as an international embargo on rosewood, ebony, and palisander exports and trade.

Strong evidence from the ground, such as record seizures of illegal timber shipments and reports from local activists, suggests that the illegal logging and export of precious woods continues on the island. The illegal trade in Malagasy rosewood has primarily been fueled by the growing demand for rosewood species from Asia, especially China, where hundreds of factories specialize in manufacturing antique-style furniture.

Lack of enforcement and persecution of environmental activists

Despite the multitude of declarations from the Malagasy government that it is taking action against the mafia-like structure that has developed around the precious wood trade, no “timber baron” has ever been convicted within the national judicial system. Instead, this system has been used to threaten, jail, and sentence vocal environmental activists and journalists, who have relentlessly denounced illegal logging occurring in national parks and repeatedly called for action from the international community.


  • Investigate the illegal timber sector, and alert the international community to evidence of illegal harvest and trade
  • Understand the major trends on the international demand for precious species like rosewood and ebony, especially in China, and monitor the implementation of international laws such as CITES
  • Advocate for sound political decisions and technical measures to guarantee the effective conservation of remaining forests, in particular through the judicious management of existing precious wood stockpiles
  • Support local activists in denouncing illegal logging and associated timber export

Impacts & Results:

  • As a result of the collective action carried out by national and international civil society organizations and journalists, the Malagasy activist Armand Marozafy, was finally released after serving five months in jail for defamation. Back to his life as an eco-tourist guide and fearless civil society leader, his fight for the conservation of the Malagasy ecosystems continues.
  • EIA’s investigation into illegal rosewood and ebony exports from Madagascar and their international buyers provided key evidence and context for the first major timber case under the U.S. Lacey Act, which resulted in a 2012 criminal enforcement agreement wherein Gibson Guitars admitted to violating the 2008 amendments to the U.S. Lacey Act.
  • EIA leveraged support from Malagasy and international musicians to bring attention to the illegal logging crisis in Madagascar and the importance of verifying legality of precious tonewoods, like rosewood and ebony, used in instruments like guitars.
  • The international outcry around EIA’s 2009 and 2010 reports on illegal logging in Madagascar resulted in the complete ban on harvesting, trade, and export in March, 2010 – ending the previous cycle of one-off exceptional government authorizations.