From: Tim Cocks, Reuters
Published July 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Hollywood Could Help Save Madagascan Forests

ANTANANARIVO — The hit movie "Madagascar" has raised hopes that its namesake island will benefit from higher tourist visits, which could encourage locals to conserve rainforests considered among the world's most pristine and rare.


The animated film by DreamWorks Studios, which has earned $179.6 million since its May release, features the voices of actors Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer and Chris Rock.


Though few on the huge Indian Ocean island will see the film until its video release -- its theatres are too old to accommodate 35mm film -- some see a tourism renaissance with the newfound name recognition given by Hollywood's spotlights.


More tourists dollars would give some of the island's poor an economic incentive to preserve their environment, Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier said.


"I don't think we're going to resolve the problem of poverty. But in the immediate vicinity of the areas that are going to be visited, one can generate enough benefits so that the community becomes concerned (about conservation)," he told Reuters during a visit to Madagascar.


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The island, the world's fourth-largest, is home to tens of thousands of species of plant and animal life found nowhere else, including birds, insects, chameleons and lemurs -- a cuddly primate that features in the DreamWorks cartoon.


But they are threatened by rampant poverty that drives poor residents into slash-and-burn farming, logging and hunting.


As many as 300 million are expected to see the film worldwide by the time it is released on a pay-per-view basis, Mittermeier said.


"If we get just 1 percent in the next 5-10 years coming to Madagascar, that's a 10 to 20-fold increase in tourists," he said.


Madagascar attracted 230,000 tourists in 2004, up from 160,000 in 2003.


"Madagascar" premiered on the island on Friday in a private viewing in the capital Antananarivo.


Henri Rabesahala, on a government taskforce to capitalise on the film's tourism potential, said he hoped it would encourage tourists despite the fact that all the main roles are played by animals not native to the island.


"It was a little funny to see a lion, a giraffe and a zebra in Madagascar," Rabesahala said. "But the image is: the tourists are the lions and the zebra. We are the lemurs ... So we hope those people from New York will come to see us lemurs."


Source: Reuters


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