Madagascar Nature and Wildlife
Madagascar was once part of the Gondwana Supercontinent however, the country broke away from Africa approximately 160 million years ago, then broke away from Antarctica, Australia and finally India. Despite staying geographically close to the African continent, Madagascar remained relatively isolated. As a result of this isolation, about 80% of the wildlife found on the island is found nowhere else in the world. The unique ecology of the country has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent”.
Madagascar is home to over 14,883 plant species of which 80% are found nowhere else. The eastern part of the island was once covered in rainforests filled with palms, ferns and bamboo. Unfortunately due to human interactions, much of the rainforests have been significantly reduced. The western part of the island is home to drier, deciduous forests. These forests host the endemic baobab tree. Madagascar houses three times as many palms as found on the African mainland. Many of the native palm species are used in medicines. Certain drugs used to treat leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease come from the Madagascar periwinkle.
As of 2012, there are 200 mammal species that include over 100 species of lemurs. Lemurs are synonymous with Madagascar yet almost all species are classified as rare, vulnerable or endangered. Lemurs are an old group of primates that evolved only in Madagascar as a result of their isolation. There were no monkeys on the island and as a result, Lemurs faced no competition. They soon came to dominate all of the rainforests. It was not until humans were introduced to Madagascar that Lemurs came under threat and it is estimated that at least fourteen species have become extinct since man arrived.
Other endemic mammals include the giant striped mongoose that lives only in a small area of southwestern Madagascar. It is one of the rarest carnivores in the world. The fossa is related to the mongoose family and is a catlike, carnivorous mammal. The fossa is considered vulnerable.
There are over 300 species of birds in Madagascar, over 60% of which are endemic. Approximately 266 amphibian species are distributed throughout the island. Out of the few reptile species that reached Madagascar comes over 260 reptile species. Over 90% of these reptiles are unique to the country. Madagascar is home to two-thirds of the world’s chameleon population with many researchers believing that Madagascar may be the origin of all chameleons.
Humans have had a major impact on the wildlife of Madagascar. Agricultural practices like slash and burn significantly decrease the landscape. In response to this, an initiative was put forward in 2003 with the ultimate goal of tripling the island’s protected areas to make up 10% of the total land surface. By 2011, protected areas included five strict nature reserves, twenty-one wildlife reserves and twenty-one national parks. In 2007, UNESCO named six of the national parks as a joint World Heritage Site known as the Rainforests of the Atsinanana.
Interestingly, in 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society opened an exhibit entitled “Madagascar!” at the Bronx Zoo in New York. The goal of the exhibit was to promote public awareness about Madagascar’s environmental challenges.
Madagascar Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to Madagascar.
Learn about the history and culture of Madagascar, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Madagascar's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Madagascar for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Madagascar tours today!
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