Rice fields near Ambalandingana, Madagascar.
Madagascar (; Malagasy: Madagasikara), officially the Republic of Madagascar (Malagasy: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara Malagasy pronunciation: [republiˈkʲan madaɡasˈkʲarə̥]; French: République de Madagascar), and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world), and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population and other environmental threats.
The first archaeological evidence for human foraging on Madagascar may have occurred as much as 10,000 years ago. Human settlement of Madagascar occurred between 350 BC and AD 550 by Austronesian peoples, arriving on outrigger canoes from Borneo. These were joined around AD 1000 by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel from East Africa. Other groups continued to settle on Madagascar over time, each one making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is often divided into 18 or more subgroups of which the largest are the Merina of the central highlands.
Illegal logging in Madagascar has been a problem for decades and is perpetuated by extreme poverty and government corruption. Often taking the form of selective logging, the trade has been driven by high international demand for expensive, fine-grained lumber such as rosewood and ebony. Historically, logging and exporting in Madagascar have been regulated by the Malagasy government, although the logging of rare hardwoods was explicitly banned from protected areas in 2000. Since then, government orders and memos have intermittently alternated between permitting and banning exports of precious woods. The most commonly cited reason for permitting exports is to salvage valuable wood from cyclone damage, although this reasoning has come under heavy scrutiny. This oscillating availability of Malagasy rosewood and other precious woods has created a market of rising and falling prices, allowing traders or "timber barons" to stockpile illegally sourced logs during periodic bans and then flood the market when the trade windows open and prices are high.
The unsustainable exploitation of these tropical hardwoods has escalated significantly since the start of the 2009 Malagasy political crisis. Thousands of poorly paid Malagasy loggers have flooded into the national parks—especially in the northeast—building roads, setting up logging camps, and cutting down even the most difficult to reach rosewood trees.
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Marc Ravalomanana (born December 12, 1949, in Imerinkasinina) is a Malagasy politician who was the President of Madagascar from 2002 to 2009. A member of the Merina ethnic group, Ravalomanana served as Mayor of Antananarivo before becoming President in 2002. He took office as President amidst a dispute over the results of the December 2001 presidential election in which he successfully pressed his claim to have won a majority in the first round. He was re-elected in December 2006, again with a majority in the first round.
In the municipal elections held on November 14, 1999, Ravalomanana was elected as mayor of the capital, Antananarivo, receiving 45% of the vote and defeating former Prime Minister Guy Willy Razanamasy. As mayor he was credited with successfully cleaning up the capital. He announced on August 5, 2001 that he would run for President in the election to be held later that year on December 16; two months later, polls showed him to be ahead of the incumbent president, Didier Ratsiraka.
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