The discovery of a deposit of precious stones in a protected Madagascar rainforest has sparked a rush with even foreign businessmen descending on the region in search of mega-deals.
Sapphire deposits were recently found in the Zahamena rainforest to the island nation's east but conservation concerns have grown as the area was in 2007 added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Ambatondrazaka, the capital of Alaotra-Mangoro region where the find was recorded has been abuzz, with all hotels there overbooked within a few days, according to local sources.
An estimated 10,000 miners are already in Zahamena, according to regional authorities.
"Almost half of this number have encroached the conservation zone," Mr Rasolonirina Ramenason, the region's Environment and Forestry director told the Africa Review.
"Going alone there is not encouraged. Not only are the roads in an advanced state of deterioration, but it is very risky due to safety concerns," he added.
An officer who asked for anonymity said most of the miners had agreed to leave the forest's perimeter after talks, but controlling the hordes had not been easy as it was densely covered.
Officials said they had arrested a Chinese national said to have incited miners to collect the stones in the Zahamena forest.
Staff of US-based NGO Conservation International said they were very concerned with the situation on the ground.
The discovery could lead to delays in disbursing a $52 million grant the World Bank had set aside last year for conservation activities in 30 national parks and three newly-protected areas in Madagascar, Mr Ramenason said.
A new conservation plan will have to be drawn up, a military source said.
The Malagasy government has seemed powerless in controlling the rush.
The discovery in the 1990s of a rich sapphire deposit in Ilakaka zone, southern Madagascar -- now considered as the world capital of sapphire -- resulted in huge social and ecological problems.
A few years later, the discovery of some deposits in the Indian Ocean island had the same consequences.
The political crisis in the country since 2009 has seriously harmed the nation’s rich fauna and flora because due to illegal exploitation of the abundant natural resources.