For the past three months, Madagascar’s southeast has fallen prey to violent conflicts between zebu breeders and poachers. Angry villagers recently ambushed a group of poachers without soliciting help from the local police force. Our Observer went to the remote village of Fenoevo, where nearly 90 thieves were summarily executed.
In the Malagasy tradition, the theft of zebus is an initiation rite for young men to prove their virility prior to marriage. But today, this rite of passage has morphed into organized crime, as a zebu can be sold for 200 euros on the black market.
Corrupt veterinarians and bureaucrats help organize the export of zebu meat to foreign nations. At the lowest rungs of this growing illegal trade are the “dahalos” (“zebu hunters” in Malagasy), who terrorise the countryside, armed with AK-47s. Most of the time, they bribe members of the military to allow them to poach with impunity.
The men of Fenoevo village, armed with iron spears.
The increasing levels of crime in the region have galvanised villagers to band together to try to ensure the safety of their herds. Since the end of August, zebu breeders have launched a series of deadly attacks, which have led to the death of more than 100 “dahalos” in several villages in southeast Madagascar. Several policemen were also killed during these conflicts. Faced with this violence, the government has announced a plan to send special forces into the region.
The corpses of the zebu poachers in front of Fenoevo city hall.
All of these pictures were taken by our Observer, Say Saisandrata, on September 1, a day after the Fenoevo villagers’ attack against the poachers.

“The villagers had prepared their self-defence with utmost secrecy”

Say Saisandrata is in charge of communications for the Anozy region, in the southeast of Madagascar. She took these pictures on September 1, the day after an ambush against the “dahalos” in Fenoevo village.
We learned the news through a bush taxi driver on the evening of the attack. He had gone through Fenoevo that day and told us he had seen the bodies of “dahalos.” When I got there the next day, the villagers had lined up 17 bodies in front of the city hall. They had not had the time to collect the other bodies that were still scattered on the site of the attack [in total, 90 “dahalos” were killed]. In the afternoon, they dug three pits not far from the city hall and buried the poachers there.
A couple of days before the attack, there were rumours in the village that the poachers were going to come steal the cattle.
But the villagers did not inform the local police station [Editor’s note: which is located 20 kilometres from the village]. The first reason for this is that there aren’t any phone lines in Fenoevo. The villagers also told me that they wanted to make sure their ambush succeeded, and so they had to keep it as secret as possible. The women and the children of the village went to hide in the hills with the herds. The men left their houses but hid nearby, waiting for the “dahalos” to arrive.
On Friday at 6 a.m., the thieves arrived in the village with rifles. Unable to find any zebus, they entered the houses one by one, looking for the breeders. They eventually decided to leave the village, at which point the hidden villagers came out of their hiding places and encircled them. With recruits from neighbouring villages, the villagers must have been about a thousand strong. Lacking guns, the villagers used rocks and “lefona” [iron spears], and they killed everyone.
Had the villagers not killed the poachers, it is the villagers who would be dead today. The poachers have no moral qualms about attacking villagers. But now, the villagers of Fenoevo are very fearful of reprisals from other zebu poachers.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.