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Story Behind the Picture: The Gold Standard

Nikon D3S, Nikon 70-200mm, f5, 1/250 second

On Madagascar, an island where superlatives abound, the forests around Daraina are particularly special. Here so many of the environmental, social, humanitarian and conservation issues the desperately poor island nation faces collide.

By day these forests and particularly those close to the village of Andranotsimaty, are perhaps the best place to see the golden-crowned sifaka, one of the world’s most critically endangered primates. Remarkably, these lemurs are totally tolerant and comfortable living in close proximity to the village as the sifakas are protected by a local taboo or ‘fady’.

One of the planet's rarest primates, the golden-crowned sifaka with an infant around two months old.

And yet in many areas close to the village, the forest is significantly degraded but extensive gold mining operations. Here local people eke out a meagre living by digging and hand panning for tiny fragments of the precious metal. At ground level the environment is stark, bleak and depressing - massively pockmarked with deep pits - and yet in the trees above lives one of the most beautiful lemurs there is. And because of the issues surrounding the gold mining and the reliance of the local people on this, these forests are not formally protected. It is a paradox that encapsulates so many of the difficulties and challenges in Madagascar.