Madagascar has become one of Africa’s leading producers of the colored gems since they were first discovered on the island in the 1990s, exporting $16.5 million of sapphires, rubies and emeralds in 2015, according to MIT’s trade database. This does not include a sizeable black market.
The northern Corridor Ankeniheny-Zahamena is now seeing a major new sapphire rush, delivering much-needed income for miners in a country where over 70% of the population earn less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. Teachers and farmers have reportedly abandoned their jobs to seek fortunes in the mines. But conservationists claim this windfall comes at a cost.A problem with the current rush is that it takes place within a protected area, home to uniquely rich wildlife. The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor is home to thousands of plant and animal species unique to the region, according to the group, including the largest known species of lemur — the Indri – as well as many rare birds and amphibians. There are also reports of wide-scale destruction of the rainforest.
The area is monitored and maintained by environmental group Conservation International, which is concerned about the effects of the sapphire rush and has appealed to the government to protect it with more rigorous policing.