Aug. 21, 2012 -- Newly established Makira Natural Park is now Madagascar's largest protected area. The hope is that the park will protect hundreds of unique species that live in the northeastern part of the island nation.
Even the smallest of animal inhabitants, such as this tiny stump-tailed chameleon, stand to benefit.
"This is truly a landmark in Madagascar's ongoing commitment to protect its natural heritage," said Cristián Samper, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has championed efforts to safeguard Makira for decades. "Makira Natural Park now represents the center of biodiversity conservation for the nation."
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Makira Natural Park is home to the highest diversity of lemur species on the planet. The red-ruffed lemur only exists in the forests of Makira and nearby Masoala Parks.
Lemurs "are the most distantly related primates to us that remain alive today," Christopher Beard, a Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist, told Discovery News.
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The fossa is Madagascar's only large predator. The largest population of these unusual cat-like predators is believed to exist in Makira.
The fossa eats lemurs and requires very large areas of intact forest to maintain healthy populations.
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The leaf-tailed gecko, whose tail does look exactly like a leaf, is another animal protected by the new park.
The species is endemic to Madagascar, where it lives in trees. The gecko's tail and coloration help to camouflage it within the tropical forest habitat.
Makira Natural Park contains 1,438 square miles of rainforest, making the region larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
Estimates suggest that Makira, the adjacent Masoala National Park and the rest of the Antongil Bay watershed together hold the island's richest biodiversity.
This unique lemur, the silky sifaka, was only recently discovered in Makira's mid-altitude forests. It is one of the 25 most endangered primates on the planet. Twenty of Madagascar's 103 species of lemurs live in the new park.
Makira Natural Park is home to reptiles as well, such as the Malagasy hognose snake.
Although its upturned snout gives it a somewhat perpetually angry look, this species comes from a genus of snakes that are harmless to humans.
The frog Boophis Brachychir practically disappears into its forest environment, given its effective body camouflage.
Threatened by habitat loss, the frog now has hope for survival in the protected park.
Dangers to Makira and the surrounding region still exist, however. They include land-clearing for agriculture, bushmeat hunting, illegal logging and illegal mineral resource extraction.
Safeguarding the region from such threats will be critical to the new park's success.
Efforts to reduce deforestation at Markira hold the promise of tackling climate change, note Samper and James Deutsch, executive director for WCS's Africa Program.
In 2008, the Malagasy government and the WCS announced a joint agreement to market Makira's carbon offsets, an estimated 31 million tons over 30 years, to finance the long-term conservation of Makira.
Fifty percent of revenues generated from the marketing of Makira's carbon offsets are set to flow back to local communities in Madagascar to support improved resource stewardship and livelihoods.
"Makira Natural Park is a spectacular achievement for both the wildlife and people of Madagascar," Deutsch concluded.
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