Monday, 23 July 2012

Sapphire find sends panners into Madagascar lemur park


Knee-deep in muddy water, a 10-year-old child and a woman with braided hair lean over a large sieve, washing earth and rocks, their eyes clenched against the filthy splashing water.
They are among the thousands of panners hoping to strike it rich on a recently discovered seam of sapphires, running through Madagascar's newest national park created to protect the island's famed lemurs and dozens of other rare species.
The 381,000 hectares (941,000 acres) of virgin rainforest of the Ankeniheny-Zahamena corridor officially became a protected area late last year. Then in April, sapphires were found.
"We had an invasion of illegal miners in this park, which is our most recent protected area", says Angelo Francois Randriambeloson from the ministry of environment.
The park has 2,043 identified species of plants; 85 percent are found no where else in the world. There's also 15 species of lemurs, 30 other mammals, 89 types of birds and 129 kinds of amphibians. And that's just what's been discovered so far.
But now among the park's tall trees, a one-kilometre (half-mile) stretch of river valley has turned into a mudpit as thousands of Madagascar's desperately poor people have thrown up makeshift homes of branches and plastic sheets, beaten by near-daily rains.
The vast Indian Ocean island is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 81 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank.
Sapphires present an irresistible lure of quick riches for the lucky, who say they don't have to dig more than three metres (10 feet) to find large stones.

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