The Scramble for Sapphires in Madagascar’s Protected Rainforest

Exhausted and soaked, our packs were heavy on our backs. An 18-hour hike through pristine rainforest — picking our way along winding, slippery, redclay muck trails, fording a dozen or more rivers and creeks, climbing and descending more than two miles in total — had us nearing our destination, but we weren’t sure what we’d find.

As we crested the final 500-foot climb, we saw a scene of utter devastation, like Saruman’s army toiling underground in The Lord of the Rings. Below us spread a maze of muddy trails, honeycombed…