Madagascar: stunning wildlife, landscapes, and cultural diversity

WildMadagascar.org highlights Madagascar's stunning wildlife, landscapes, and cultural diversity.

Madagascar is a land like no other. An island roughly the size of Texas or France, Madagascar is home to more than 250,000 species of which 70% are found nowhere else on the globe.



Geography: Madagascar can be divided into five geographical regions: the east coast, the Tsaratanana Massif, the central highlands, the west coast, and the southwest. The highest elevations parallel the east coast, whereas the land slopes more gradually to the west coast. Geography of Madagascar

Culture: are of the past; where in many areas taboo and tradition takes precedence over the law; and western-style religion is freely mixed with beliefs in sorcery and unparalleled funerary customs. The People of Madagascar

Plant biodiversity: Madagascar is home to as many as 12,000 plant species -- 70-80% of which are endemic -- making it one of the most diverse floras on the planet. Flora of Madagascar.

Animal biodiversity: Madagascar has some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. Of roughly 200,000 known species found on Madagascar, about 150,000 are endemic. Unique to the island are more than 50 types of lemurs, 99 percent of its frog species, and 36 genera of birds. Madagascar houses 100 percent of the world's lemurs, half of its chameleon species, 6 percent of its frogs, and none of its toads. Some species found in Madagascar have their closest relatives not in Africa but in the South Pacific and South America. Wildlife of Madagascar.

Madagascar News

Madagascar: Businesses drive disappearance of a wetland ‘reed forest’
- Lake Alaotra and its surrounding marshes are Madagascar’s largest wetland, a Ramsar Site that is home to globally significant biodiversity.
- Despite layers of legal protection and conservation programming, around 850 hectares (2,100 acres) of marsh disappear each year to make way for rice cultivation, much of it perpetrated by businesses.
- Local people are keenly feeling the lake’s decline, though, and a commitment to protecting it, along with some success stories, persist in pockets around its shores.
- The government is implementing a zero-tolerance campaign against illegal environmental destruction, but it remains to be seen whether this can reduce the lawlessness and impunity enough to safeguard the lake.

New map shows where the 80% of species we don’t know about may be hiding
- A new study maps out the regions of the world most likely to hold the highest number of species unknown to science.
- The study found that tropical forests in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia had the highest potential for undescribed species, mostly reptiles and amphibians.
- According to the lead researcher, the main reason for species going undescribed is a lack of funding and taxonomic experts in some parts of the world.
- He added that it’s essential to learn about as many species as possible to protect them, but that undescribed species are currently not taken into account by governing bodies like the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Slash-and-burn farming eats away at a Madagascar haven for endangered lemurs, frogs
- The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor (CAZ), a protected area in Madagascar, has experienced a surge in deforestation in the past five months, driven largely by slash-and-burn agriculture.
- The loss of forest threatens rare and endangered wildlife found nowhere else, including lemurs and frogs and geckos, conservationists say.
- Other factors fueling the deforestation include mining for gemstones and cutting of trees to make charcoal.
- The problem in CAZ is emblematic of a wider trend throughout the central eastern region of Madagascar, in both protected and unprotected areas, where 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of tree cover has been lost since 2001.

Reforested areas rival mature forests in securing water, study finds
- New research from Madagascar shows that young scrubby forests can in some ways be better at retaining water than older mature forests.
- They provide similar benefits in preventing runoff but use up lesser water, according to a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
- However, some hydrologists say the effects of evapotranspiration, water released back into the atmosphere by trees, on rainfall in areas farther afield must not be ignored.
- If scrubby forests are as efficient as older ones in retaining water, it means reforestation boosts water resources available to communities who take part in reforestation drives.

Madagascar: Young farmers adopt new methods to help lemurs, forests and themselves
- Threatened by unsustainable farming methods and hunting, the forests of Mangabe-Ranomena-Sahasarotra in eastern Madagascar, and the lemurs that live there, are in danger.
- A project aims to train young villagers in the region in sustainable farming techniques and to raise their awareness of lemur protection.
- These young people are trained to be ambassadors for the protection of the environment, who will transmit their knowledge to the next generation.

Newly described chameleon from Madagascar may be world’s smallest reptile
- A newly described chameleon from Madagascar is the world’s tiniest chameleon, and possibly the smallest reptile.
- A male specimen of Brookesia nana measured a mere 14 mm (0.55 inches), small enough to perch on an aspirin tablet.
- Madagascar hosts more than 100 species of chameleons, and 30 species belonging to the Brookesia genus alone.
- Many of the chameleons, including B. nana, are only found in tiny patches of forest that are severely threatened by deforestation and degradation.

Mob killing of Malagasy officer spotlights risks faced by forest guardians
- A law enforcement officer was fatally wounded and two civilians killed on Jan. 20 when a mob accosted him and three others as they tried to apprehend suspected illegal loggers in a village in northeastern Madagascar.
- The confrontation was exacerbated by the presence of trained mercenaries who villagers sometimes enlist to protect them against cattle raiders, local media reported.
- Madagascar, a megadiverse island off Africa’s eastern coast has suffered dramatic forest loss in recent years, but reliance on community-led conservation is fraught, given their lack of power and resources.
- At the front line of the fight to preserve its natural riches but at the lowest rung of the enforcement apparatus are Madagascar’s forest guards and law enforcement officers like Lahatra Rahajaharison, who died in the attack.

Dusty winds exacerbate looming famine in Madagascar’s deep south
- At least 1.27 million people need humanitarian assistance in Madagascar’s drought-hit deep south, according to a Jan. 18 request by the U.N. and the Malagasy government for $75.9 million in international aid to cope with the crisis.
- The area is also experiencing dust and sand storms, a natural phenomenon known as a tiomena that is exacerbating the crisis by smothering crops, forests, buildings and roads.
- Tiomenas may be increasingly common as southern Madagascar undergoes a long-term drying trend.
- Experts say upgrading the area’s water supply system is an urgent priority and recommend massive tree planting to provide wind breaks, protect soils from erosion and create more humidity.

Invasion of the crayfish clones: Q&A with Ranja Andriantsoa
- An unusual invasive crayfish has been spreading in Madagascar, threatening aquatic biodiversity even as it helps nourish the country’s food-insecure population.
- The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) evolved only in recent decades as part of the German aquarium trade. It’s entirely female and reproduces clonally without males.
- Ranja Andriantsoa, a Malagasy biologist and epigenetics researcher, began studying marbled crayfish as a way to learn about cancerous tumors, which reproduce in a similar way.
- Andriantsoa’s ongoing research focuses on the social and health impacts of the marbled crayfish and aims to inform Madagascar’s strategy for managing the crayfish’s ecological impact.

Amazon is on the brink of turning into a carbon source, study warns
- Forests remain a carbon sink, stashing away 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, but their ability to lock carbon is weakening.
- In the last 20 years alone, forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, have turned into net carbon emitters, and the Amazon threatens to go the same way.
- Most of the Amazon lies in Brazil, and between 2001 and 2019 the Brazilian Amazon acted as a net carbon source, a new study has found.
- What is especially worrying is the loss of pristine swaths of forests in countries like Madagascar that have kept carbon out of the atmosphere for decades, if not centuries.

Pet trade relies on ‘disposable’ wild chameleons from Madagascar
- Despite being difficult to keep alive and healthy, chameleons are among the most popular reptiles in the exotic pet trade.
- Each year hundreds of thousands of these slow-moving reptiles are taken from the wild, both legally and illegally, many of them from threatened species living in the forests of Madagascar.
- Observers say the international trade in chameleons must be changed to avoid harming wild populations and improve the well-being of animals during transit and captivity.
- They also point to the need to make the trade fairer and more transparent, so local people can benefit from it.

Top environment stories from Madagascar in 2020
- Madagascar witnessed a convergence of calamities this year, from the pandemic to surging forest fires to an unprecedented drought.
- Despite growing pressures on its forests, new species continue to be uncovered from the island, with the description of a mouse lemur, several chameleons, and even the world’s ugliest orchid.
- Protected Area management has emerged as a bone of contention between the government and NGOs that manage them, underscoring the challenges of doing conservation in a poor country.
- Here are ten key stories and trends from Madagascar in 2020.

In Madagascar’s hungry south, drought pushes more than 1 million to brink of famine
- In Madagascar’s deep south, 1.35 million people, including 100,000 children, could fall victim to malnutrition this year, as the worst drought in a decade grips the region.
- This remote region has witnessed 16 famines since 1896, eight of which occurred in the past four decades. Most were the direct result of rainfall deficits, but misguided or failed policies have deepened the distress.
- This year, with crop failures, pandemic-related restrictions curbing access to markets, and sharp increases in prices of essentials, food has remained out of reach for thousands.
- Such droughts and the attendant famines are likely to become more frequent due to climate change, producing more hunger and distress in one of the poorest countries in the world.

A Madagascar forest long protected by its remoteness is now threatened by it
- Satellite data show an increase in deforestation in Tsaratanana Reserve and the neighboring COMATSA protected area in northern Madagascar in recent years, and an uptick in the last few months.
- Though many of the island’s forests have been extensively cleared, these northern forests were relatively well protected until recently.
- The loss of these forests to make way for the illegal cultivation of marijuana, vanilla and rice threatens the region’s rich biodiversity and high endemism, conservationists say.
- Some experts argue that the legalization of marijuana would make it less likely that people would grow the crop in the remote forests of Tsaratanana.

As minister and activists trade barbs, Madagascar’s forests burn
- Forest fires are blazing across Madagascar, including in its protected areas, home to some of the world’s rarest species, from critically endangered lemurs to hundreds of endemic snails.
- In Manombo Special Reserve, known for sheltering more than 50 species of snails found nowhere else on Earth, woodland the size of 800 Olympic swimming pools went up in smoke last month.
- In nearby Befotaka-Midongy National Park, one of the largest stretches of evergreen forest in Madagascar, more than 1,000 fires were reported this year.
- A heated debate has erupted online about the fires, with some activists criticizing the environment ministry, while the ministry says the blame is shared by NGOs that manage most of the country’s protected areas.

Madagascar moves to reopen domestic trade in non-precious timber
- Madagascar eased a two-year-old restriction on the domestic sale of stockpiles of so-called ordinary wood — non-precious timber logged from natural forests. The government will not issue any new permits for commercial logging of ordinary wood and its export remains prohibited.
- The move in no way applies to precious timber such as rosewood and ebony, whose stocks remain illegal to log, sell or export. Nor does it apply to exotic species such as pine and eucalyptus.
- The government is currently developing a plan to use stockpiles of confiscated precious timber domestically, for example in the construction of public buildings and the production of handicrafts.
- Law enforcement weakness remains one of the biggest challenges for Malagasy forest management.

Bug bites: Edible insect production ramps up quickly in Madagascar
- In the last two years, two insect farming projects have taken off in Madagascar as a way to provide precious protein while alleviating pressure on lemurs and other wild animals hunted for bushmeat.
- One program, which promotes itself with a deck of playing cards, encourages rainforest residents in the northeast to farm a bacon-flavored native planthopper called sakondry.
- Another program focuses on indoor production of crickets in the capital city, Antananarivo.
- Both projects are on the cusp of expanding to other parts of the country.

A Malagasy community wins global recognition for saving its lake
- A community association charged with managing Lake Andranobe in central Madagascar has won this year’s Equator Prize from the UNDP in the category “Nature for Water.”
- The association’s efforts, including implementing fishery closures, regulating water use, and reforestation, have led to increased fish catches and helped revive the lake ecosystem.
- As in the rest of the world, Madagascar’s wetlands are often overlooked in conservation priorities, despite the fact that freshwater species are even more threatened than terrestrial or marine biodiversity.
- The prize highlights the benefits of community-driven management, which often works better than initiatives undertaken by outsiders but also carries considerable challenges.

The riddle of Madagascar’s megafauna extinction just got trickier
- Madagascar saw a relatively recent mass extinction event about 1,000 years ago, when gorilla-sized lemurs, towering elephant birds, and grand tortoises were all wiped out from the island.
- A recently published paper complicates the widely-held understanding that humans were to blame for the crash, by drawing attention to a megadrought that the authors say also played a role.
- The new study uses geological evidence from Madagascar and Rodrigues, an island now part of Mauritius about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Madagascar, to construct a climatic record.
- Some scientists have questioned whether the geological record from Madagascar paints an accurate picture of past climate, or whether the data from Rodrigues can shed light on conditions in Madagascar.

Podcast: Lemur love and award-winning plant passion in Madagascar
- We’ve got recordings of indri lemurs and the architect of 11 new protected areas that aim to protect Madagascar’s rich biodiversity of plant life on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast.
- We’re joined by Jeannie Raharimampionana, a Malagasy botanist who has identified 80 priority areas for conservation of plant life in her country and has already turned 11 of those areas into officially decreed protected areas.
- We’re also joined by Valeria Torti, who uses bioacoustics to improve conservation of critically endangered indri lemurs in Madagascar’s Maromizaha forest. She plays for us a number of recordings of the primates’ songs.

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Books

Madagascar, 9th: The Bradt Travel Guide
Madagascar Wildlife, 3rd: A Visitor's Guide
Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide
Madagascar Travel Pack
Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands
Birds of Madagascar: A Photographic Guide
Lonely Planet Madagascar & Comoros
The Natural History of Madagascar
Malagasy-English: Dictionary and Phrasebook
Lords and Lemurs
The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar
The Aye-Aye and I : A Rescue Journey to Save One of the World's Most Intriguing Creatures from Extinction
Shadows in the Dawn: The Lemurs of Madagascar