Madagascar forests in danger from illegal logging

  • An aerial view from a plane of one of the rivers used to bring the rosewood trunks to the east coast of Madagascar where they get ready to be exported, on May 19, 2014. Loaded at Cap Est, commonly known as “Port Bolabola”, these valuable resources leave for China.
  • Bruno poses on the Iagnobe riverbanks on May 21, 2014, with a machete and inner tubes that help him to carry rosewood trunks which have been illegally cut in the Masoala National Park.
  • Two men are float down Iagnobe river with rosewood trunks which have been illegally cut in the Masoala National Park on May 21, 2014. Their rafts are made with inner tubes and branches.
  • Near the village of Andanalavahil, on the Iagnobe riverbank, men unload rosewood trunks illegally cut in the Masoala National Park on May 21, 2014. Trunks are hidden in a pit dug on the riverbank. 
  • On the Iagnobe riverbank, near the village of Andanalavahil, a man sits on rosewood trunks illegally cut in the Masoala National Park on May 21, 2014.
  • At the end of the day men play dice in the village of Andanalavahil, Magacascar, a place known to partake in the rosewood smuggling, on May 21, 2014.
  • On the Iagnobe riverbank the a man picks up rosewood trunks illegally cut in the Masoala National Park, on May 22, 2014 near the village of Andanalavahil, Madagascar.
  • On the Iagnobe riverbank, near the village of Andanalavahil, a buyers’ middlewoman weighs rosewood trunks illegally cut in the Masoala National Park on May 21, 2014.
  • A woman mills rice in a small street of Andanalavahil, Madagascar on May 22, 2014. The village lives on the smuggling of rosewood trunks illegally cut in the Masoala National Park.
  • Rosewood trunks that were illegally cut in the Masoala National Park, are stored on the Iagnobe riverbanks, near the village of Andanalavahil, Madagascar on May 22, 2014.
  • Inhabitants of the village of Ambalavi are gathered in the school in order to talk about development projects and deforestation dangers linked to the rosewood’s smuggling on May 21, 2014.
  • A deforested hill is seen along the Iagnobe river in Madagascar on May 20, 2014. With the absence of the trees, rice fields will be planted.
  • Zafy Rafaly, who is a teacher, gathers the children of the village of Ambalavi, Madagascar on May 21, 2014. Since his incomes are too small, he takes part in rosewood’s smuggling.
  • In the forest of the Marojejy National Park, children are seen going back home after their work in the fields in Madagascar on May 24, 2014.
  • Joiners work in a sawmill of Antalaha, Madagascar on May 19, 2014. Rosewood is basically reserved for exportation, but some trunks stay in the island and are used for making small furnitures and objects for tourists.
  • Rosewood trunks seized and stored in the courtyard of the Minister of Water Affairs and Forests in Antalaha, Madagascar on May 23, 2014.
  • Emmanuel, who is in charge of the surveillance of the Masoala National Park, poses in front of a Traveller’s Tree in Madagascar on May 22, 2014. Emmanuel has no car, and no communication device to do his job.
  • Rosewood trunks seized by customs are seen on Antalaha harbor in Madagascar on May 23, 2014.
  • A street scene in the Chinese district of Antananarivo, Madagascar on May 26, 2014. Chinese tradesmen are suspected to help laundering the money from rosewood trafficking.
  • Men walk on ”Timber Street” beside tree trunks belonging to precious woods trade shops in Xianyou, China, 2014. Along the avenue, the shops sell Rosewood trunks coming from Asia (Laos) and sometimes from Africa.
  • Workers carve precious wood panels in one of the factories belonging to Mr. Huang Fuhua, in Xianyou, China, 2014.
  • Xianyou’s main activity is related both to the trade of precious wood coming from Asia (Laos) and Africa and to the furniture manufacturing. The city has undergone rapid expansion and many building projects have be launched.
  • A woman is passes beside a canopied bed made with precious wood and offered for sale in a show room of the Furniture Palace, in Xianyou, China, 2014.
  • A sweeper cleans paths of the Furniture Palace’€™s central square in Xianyou, China, 2014. Xianyou has been built on the trade of precious woods, not only rosewood from Madagascar, but also from Asia, and it’s economy generally relies on luxury furniture trading.
  • Workers polish seats in a workshop of Mr. Li Sheng Peng’s factory, director of the Yimu Xian Ju store and factories, in Xianyou, China, 2014.
  • A worker carves a wardrobe element made up of precious wood in one of the factories belonging to Mr. Huang Fuhua in Xianyou, China, 2014.
  • Precious wood chairs are offered for sale in the Mr. Li Sheng Peng’s showroom, director of the Yimu Xian Ju store and factories, an importing company of precious wood coming from Asia and Madagascar, in Xianyou, China, 2014.
  • A worker carefully carves a precious wood panel in the workshop of one of the factories belonging to Mr. Huang Fuhua in Xianyou, China in 2014. Mr. Huang Fuhua is the general manager of Sanfu Classical Craft Furniture, the main importing and manufacturing company of furniture made with Rosewood coming from Asia and Madagascar.
  • Mr. Huang Fuhua poses in front of a carved panel of precious wood inside one of his numerous showrooms in Xianyou, China in 2014. He is the general manager of Sanfu Classical Craft Furniture, the main importing and manufacturing company of furniture made with Rosewood coming from Asia and Madagascar.

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The protected forests on the African island of Madagascar are in danger from the illegal logging of rosewood. But many residents rely on the work for survival in one of the world’s most impoverished nations.

The criminal climate is created by the “rosewood mafia” who exploit the island’s forests and people, according to National Geographic. The end result often puts the wood in people’s homes all over the world after they purchase expensive furniture and guitars made from the precious resource smuggled from Madagascar’s forests.

One of the most traveled routes takes the wood from the eastern slopes of the Masoala peninsula in Madagascar to Xianyou, China, passing through Zanzibar in Tanzania, Mombasa in Kenya and Hong Kong, according to a report published in The GuardianChinese buyers hoping to create furniture similar to that from the Ming and Qing period of the 1600s adore the wood, prized for its red color, because of its incredible density. In 2012 China officially imported 757,000 cubic metres of rosewood, according to The Guardian.

Environmentalists argue the logging of the rosewood has a negative impact on the ecosystem. But villagers heavily rely on rosewood logging for a living. The World Bank’s poverty assessment estimates that 70% of Madagascar’s population can be defined as “being poor” and 59% as being “extremely poor.”

There was a resurgence of the illegal logging in Madagascar after a change of government in 2009. When the country’s new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, gained power last February, he promised to take control of the battle against rosewood trafficking. But residents are still waiting. Previously, illegal trade of rosewood spiked during his five years as finance minister. Previous bans proved ineffective.

From Madagascar to China, French photographer Michael Zumstein traced the roots of the trafficking of Bolabola rosewood, or “bola bola” as it is known by local residents.

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography.

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