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Madagascar prospecting (was Re: illegal fossil sales?)



smfaust@edisto.cofc.edu (Stephen Faust) wrote:

> People did get killed smuggling reptiles out of Madagascar a few
> years back. They were killed by police, not by the courts.
> The country has stiff laws against smuggling and exportation.
> The down side is that it's natural habitat is going away at an
> alarming rate. Many species will be distroyed due to loss of habitat.
> The question, hotly debated, is, should protected species be purchased
> from a black market when it is certain they will be distroyed in their
> natural habitat? Anyway, yeah, it's conceivable that death could be
> imposed by a court for selling fossils.  Steve

This post does have a dinosaur theme, trust me.
Except for a few parks, Madagascar is almost deforested of it's
originally thick semi-tropical forests, which used to cover the entire
island.
Farmers and ranchers have practiced the same cut-and-burn land clearing
practiced in the Amazon, except that the Madagascarans have
been doing it much longer.  The red soil of the island is characteristic
of lateritic soil, a leached semi-tropical soil with few nutrients.
Massive erosion is now common in the central highlands, and residents in the
lower lying areas are plagued by mudslides.
  In a strangely ironic twist, both the slash and burn land "management"
and the fully-exposed red lateritic soil make it easier to prospect for
fossils (apparently, the fire-blackened turf and the red soil makes
the white fossil bones stand out even from a distance).  Scott Sampson,
David Kraus, and Catherine Forster tangentially mentioned this in
their _Natural History_ article of 3/1997, "Madagascar's Buried Treasure".
It was also talked about in some greater detail in a T.V. documentary
on Sampson et al.'s Madagascar work of a few years ago (the name of
the T.V. show I have forgotten).

So, even though Madagascar is slowly turning into badlands, at least this
makes it easier to find it's dinosaurs.
                         <pb>

--
                 Phil Bigelow
                 bh162@scn.org