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The island nation of Madagascar located off the south east coast of Africa is the world’s fifth largest island and an ecological wonder. Due to the earth’s tectonic movements, Madagascar was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana and broke away from Africa about 160 million years ago. It also lost contact with Australia, Antartica and finally India 88 million years ago, making it an isolated breeding ground resulting in around 90% of its plant and animal species being endemic.
Classified as a biodiversity hotspot by the Conservation International and also considered as ‘megadiverse’, Madagascar with its exclusive wildlife, astonishing inhabitants including birds and its amazingly diverse landscapes can easily be touted as a paradise for nature lovers.
‘Madagascar’s flagship mammal species’ are the adorable lemurs who in the absence of monkeys and other similar species have carved out a special place for themselves in the island nation. Home to approximately 100 species and subspecies of lemurs, Madagascar is credited with its pristine wildlife and landscape due to the late settlement of humans. Colonized relatively late by humans, it is estimated that Madagascar had its first human settlers not before 500AD.
The lemur evolution in Madagascar has evolved over the years and due to its seasonal climate there has been a high diversification of lemur species and subspecies. The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur weighing about 30gm to the Indri that weighs 9 kg, Lemurs share the basic common primate traits.
Considered the most social amongst the other strepsirrhine primates the Lemurs of Madagascar have been isolated from the evolution changes in the world. Today there are about 60 taxa of lemurs found in Madagascar and their diversity is mindboggling. Scientists and naturalists have grouped them in various ways; however, let us take a look at some simple types of lemurs that you are sure to encounter in Madagascar.
Ring Tailed Lemur – Recognized by the rings on their tails, these are found in dry scrub lands and the deciduous forests in the south and southwest of the island. They live in groups and are seen in the Andohahela National Park, Berenty Reserve and in Isalo and Andringitra.
Red Ruffed Lemur – Found in the Masoala Peninsula in the northeast, these are of the larger primates of the island. Recognized by their rust red body and black stomach they have white patches on their backs and necks.
Black Lemur – Mainly nocturnal these are found in the northwest forests of the island. The male are black in color and females have brown backs.
Indri – The largest lemur and known for their wailing call the Indri is found mainly in the eastern rainforests of the island in the Andasibe National Park.
White Sifaka – They appear to be dancing as they cross or walk the ground, with their forearms above their head as they balance their way through. They are usually found in the south and west of the island.
Bamboo Lemur – Feeding mostly on bamboo, the Bamboo lemurs and the subspecies include the grey bamboo lemur and the golden bamboo lemur.
Aye Aye – Though spread across the island, these are rare to spot. With bushy tails and black or brown fur, they also have teeth like rodents and round beady eyes. Their fingers are long and thin many legends and folk lore myths and superstitions surround these creatures.
Mouse Lemur – Easily spotted and found in abundance the mouse lemur is the smallest species. These are found in Ranomafana and Andasibe National Park as well as in Berenty Reserve.
Other lemurs include the lepilemurs, dwarf lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs and more
Madagascar is home to many other endemic wildlife that are not seen in any other part of the world. Some other animals seen in Madagascar include the endemic cat like fossa, the eupleridae, tenrecs, flying foxes, fanaloka, Malagasy giant rat and many more.
287 bird species are recorded in Madagascar out of which 105 are endemic. This staggering number is enough to pique any bird lover’s enthusiasm. Some of the birds found in Madagascar include, the Pink backed pelicans, the soaring greater frigatebird, the threatened Humblot’s Heron, the Madagascan ibis, critically endangered Madagascan fish eagle, the crab plover seen often on the west coast, the giant coua, the African palm swift, the colorful Madagascar pygmy kingfisher, short legged ground roller, white headed vanga, Madagascar paradise flycatcher, Madagascar magpie robin, souimanga sunbird, Madagascar pochard, Madagascar red fody and more.
Madagascar’s reptiles are a unique lot, home to 300 reptile species out of which 90% are endemic. The usual reptiles such as, pythons and fanged snakes are missing from Madagascar’s inventory, however, it is the exclusiveness of the reptiles that has led to Madagascar’s world-wide fame.
Here is taking a look at some of the reptile species found in Madagascar.
Brookesia chameleons are one of the smallest reptiles and are found in the rainforests and deciduous forests of Madagascar. Madagascar is home to almost half the world’s chameleon population.
The Phelsuma gecko which is diurnal are brightly colored lizards and the leaf tailed gecko also called Uroplatus gecko and the fish tailed geckos are some of the lizards found in Madagascar.
The Nile crocodile is found in fresh waters. Madagascar is also home to about 80 species of snakes and surprisingly none of them are highly dangerous or venomous. Some of the interesting snakes on the island include, the fandrefiala which is quite harmless but is feared by the locals, the rear fanged snakes, the hook nosed sea snake and yellow bellied sea snake.
There are also 300 frog species in Madagascar, 99% of which are endemic. Some frog species found are, mantella and the Tomato Frog.
Other wildlife and insects found in Madagascar include the Cornet moth, the Plowshare tortoise, the giraffe weevil etc.
Madagascar can thus be called the land of species that are rare to be seen anywhere else. In fact, even plant species are endemic with the distinct baobabs, orchids and spiny forests. The landscape and terrain that are as diverse as the rainforest to deserts, with the geology of the nation ranging from the karst topography, laterite rich Red Soil as well as fertile paddy fields, Madagascar is the land of the unseen and unexpected.
Visit Madagascar to see not your favorite tigers, lions or elephants or to encounter with pythons and fangs, but let the the flora and fauna of this effervescent island surprise and enthrall you at every step.