Toby Smith

In February 2009 Madagascar’s coup d’etat saw a new interim government seize power. Powerful international traders took the opportunity to intensify illegal deforestation in the remote North-East of the country by extracting rare Rosewood and Ebony for the world market.

Spanning 3 expeditions, this ambitious photography project first identified logging areas before documenting the activity deep within UNESCO protected rainforests on an investigation with Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency .

Finally, posing as a timber buyer Smith worked undercover to penetrate the timber trader’s industry. Subsequent evidence was presented to US Federal Agents who, utilising new wildlife laws, have seized goods and files to prosecute Gibson Guitars for their involvement. The ongoing investigation continues along trade routes to China and Germany.

The HD video captured within the forest formed a significant section of “Madagascar, Lemurs and Spies” a BBC Natural World Feature documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The documentary has already been joint winner at the prestigious International Wildlife Film Festival for ‘Best Conservation Message’, and also joint winner ‘Best of Category for Conservation.’

The project has now been published across 17 pages in GEO magazine (Germany) after being embargoed for 6 months as evidence in international courts. Rosewood, genus Dalbergia, is close to being assigned CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status, and is found only at 400-1000m altitude, in specific habitats.

Video showreel of the news coverage using footage from this project.