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Madagascar Scientists Struggle With Military Coup

17 March 2009 2:11 pm
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Madagascar is in turmoil and confusion today after the president resigned in the face of a military coup d'état. Scientists who study the rich biodiversity of the island country are in limbo. ScienceInsider has been communicating by email with Steven Goodman, a biologist at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History who has lived and worked in Madagascar for over 3 decades . Goodman has discovered dozens of species new to science and is a champion of conservation on the island.

What is the situation?

We have had many nights over the past weeks with gunfire around the house, raging fires in the neighborhood, and wide-scale looting and pillaging. The American Embassy has asked American nationals to leave Madagascar and apparently the Peace Corps has decided to fold up shop. A lot of people have been killed, far more than reported in the local and Western press, and the situation has gone from bad to worse. As the economy has simply crashed more than at the international level, there are a lot of people with little to no means to feed their families, tourism is zero, and organized crime starts. We are still doing field work, but this is rather complicated.

How are scientists faring?

A number of researchers have canceled trips to Madagascar. We have a mission in a few weeks with lots of French colleagues that work for IRD  and they have had to cancel their trips associated with an interdiction to travel to Madagascar from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The University of Madagascar has not reopened since the beginning of the year and has been the site of lots of action and demonstrations. Several students have been killed and only yesterday was a road block to enter into the campus lifted.