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

Say hello to Madagascar’s newest mouse lemur, a pint-sized primate
- A new species of mouse lemur, considered the tiniest primates in the world, has been described from Madagascar.
- Microcebus jonahi is named for prominent Malagasy primatologist Jonah Ratsimbazafy, who has dedicated his life to studying and protecting Madagascar’s endemic lemurs.
- Scientists fear the species is already at risk of disappearing like almost all of the 107 other species of lemurs, primates that are native to Madagascar.
- Jonah’s mouse lemurs are found in an area half the size of Yosemite National Park, in a region where forests are fast disappearing.

Endangered and endemic: Madagascar’s lemurs susceptible to coronavirus infection
- Certain species of lemurs in Madagascar share a similar enzyme receptor to humans that could make them susceptible to contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a study shows.
- Following calls from the scientific community both on the island and abroad, an emergency unit is being set up to strengthen the protection of lemurs in the face of the virus.
- To date, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in lemurs.
- The possibility of the virus spreading among lemurs, most of which are endangered species, worries researchers.

World Bank-backed attempt to commercialize Madagascar’s beef industry falters
- In 2018, the IFC, the arm of the World Bank that invests in the private sector, approved a $7 million investment in a company that wanted to buy zebu cattle from farmers in Madagascar and export the beef mainly to rich Middle Eastern countries.
- The BoViMA project hit a major roadblock when Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina banned the export of zebus last year, and has failed to recover.
- Despite being aimed at reducing poverty, the project has invited scrutiny for its potential impacts on food security, especially the sourcing of human-edible crops for cattle feed in one of the poorest and most water-scarce regions in the world.
- When fully operational, the slaughterhouse and feedlot would require 120,000 tons of feed and 150 million liters of water a year.

A fire and a firing: Double whammy for Madagascar environmental regulator
- Madagascar’s top environmental regulator has been hit by a one-two punch of its headquarters going up in flames and its director-general being fired, all within the space of just two days this past week.
- An inquiry has been ordered into the cause of the fire on July 15 at the National Office for the Environment (ONE), which houses important documentation relating to environmental permits and impact assessments
- ONE also hosts an environmental information system on its office server, which environment ministry officials say escaped the flames; its website remained inaccessible as of July 17.
- Complicating efforts to deal with the fallout of the fire, and fanning speculation on social media, is the firing of the ONE director-general on July 16, which an environment ministry official said was unrelated to the fire.

Risking death and arrest, Madagascar fishers chase dwindling sea cucumbers
- For centuries, Chinese people have sought sea cucumbers as an ingredient in traditional medicine or as a high-status food.
- In recent decades, skyrocketing demand and prices have led to a marine gold rush for sea cucumbers around the world.
- In Madagascar, as elsewhere, wild sea cucumbers are declining.
- Fishers are venturing further out to sea and into deeper waters to pursue them illegally using unsafe SCUBA gear.

An export boom threatens to put Madagascar’s mud crabs in hot water
- A recent decision by the Malagasy government to grant permits to export live mud crabs to five Chinese companies has sparked controversy and highlighted the country’s struggle to sustainably manage an overexploited fishery.
- Civil society organizations like Southern African Regional Non-State Platform in Fisheries and Aquaculture (SANSAFA) Madagascar and the National Network of Women in Fisheries in Madagascar (RENAFEP) are demanding the ministry cancel the permits, saying the move harms local fishers and businesses.
- For some, the opposition to the permits is rooted in resentment that coastal communities work to restore habitats and bear the brunt of fishing closures and restrictions while outsiders reap the rewards.
- Even as exports of live crabs boom, the absence of an overarching national strategy and the lack of data to guide measures is hurting efforts to make the fisheries more sustainable, experts say.

Can a mine and a community group save the tiny golden mantella frog?
- The critically endangered golden mantella frog (Mantella aurantiaca) lives exclusively in the eastern portion of Madagascar’s Central Highlands.
- The frog is threatened by habitat loss, brought on in part by the Ambatovy nickel and cobalt mine.
- A rescue plan designed by citizens and supported by Ambatovy has led to the development of techniques for raising and breeding the frog in captivity.
- Specimens raised in captivity were reintroduced into the wild in 2017, but studies examining their fate have yet to be released.

A third of Madagascar’s lemur species on the brink of extinction, IUCN warns
- Of the 107 lemur species, iconic primates that are endemic to Madagascar, 103 are threatened, with 33 of them now recognized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
- Among those now considered critically endangered are the tiniest primate in the world, the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), and the Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi), a creature known for its peculiar sideways hop that gives the impression it is dancing.
- Half of the primate species of Africa are also under threat, including the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei), the largest living primate.
- Also in danger of extinction: one of the largest whales species, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), the European hamster (Cricetus cricetus) and the world’s most expensive fungus, the caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis).

Madagascar remembers Guy Suzon Ramangason, a champion of protected areas
- In April, Madagascar lost a prominent champion of the country’s system of protected areas.
- Guy Suzon Ramangason was director-general of Madagascar National Parks, the quasi-governmental agency that manages many of the country’s protected areas, for 16 years.
- He helped develop and promote numerous protected areas across the country during his long career in conservation.

After canoe chase, Madagascar authorities seize 144 endangered tortoises
- Authorities in Madagascar have seized 144 radiated tortoises from poachers in the country’s south, in the biggest tortoise trafficking bust in the country since 2018.
- Radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata), a critically endangered species, are illegal to collect or trade; most of the 144 were adults targeted for their meat.
- The tortoises are being cared for at a recovery facility, but may not be returned to the wild anytime soon; trafficking has increased so much in recent years that conservation groups engaged in the rescue of tortoises have stopped all wild releases.
- Experts warn of a likely increase in poaching in Madagascar’s south, where radiated tortoises are found, as a result of the economic slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 lockdown precipitates deforestation across Asia and South America
- Increased logging activity has been reported from Brazil, Colombia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Madagascar since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Reduced monitoring by enforcement authorities and social upheaval have both been cited as reasons for the increase.
- Environmental groups are concerned that the expected global economic recession will result in governments deregulating businesses, leading to a less green recovery as a result.

In Madagascar’s capital, pollution threatens an oasis for birds
- Tsarasaotra Park, located in the center of Antananarivo, is one of the few remaining refuges for the waterbirds of Madagascar’s highlands.
- The park is the first private site to be classified as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention.
- The fast pace of urbanization in the capital is degrading the park’s biodiversity and putting the birds at risk.

In Madagascar’s dry forests, COVID-19 sparks an intense, early fire season
- Though Madagascar officially has just under 1,800 reported infections and 16 deaths from COVID-19, the pandemic’s socioeconomic effects will be catastrophic for the country, the U.N. has warned.
- One tangible impact has been the fire season, which has started early and is likely to be fiercer this year as rural residents deprived of tourism revenue, employment opportunities and access to food markets turn to the forest to survive.
- The environment ministry registered 52,000 forest fire incidents from January until the start of June, with the western flank of the country, which hosts its unique dry forests, being the worst-affected.
- A reduction in NGOs’ and state agencies’ field activities has made forest patrols more challenging and affected the critical task of creating fire breaks.

One-two punch of drought, pandemic hits Madagascar’s poor and its wildlife
- Because of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in years poverty is rising in Madagascar, already one of the poorest countries in the world.
- Near Tsimanampesotse National Park in the southwest of the country, the loss of tourists has coincided with a disastrously dry rainy season, and restrictions associated with the pandemic are adding to rural distress; an estimated half a million people will need food aid in the coming months.
- Erratic rainfall patterns and food scarcity don’t just affect humans but also the lemurs living in the park, according to Lemur Love, a nonprofit that works in Tsimanampesotse National Park.
- The hunger crisis created by the drought and compounded by the pandemic could force people to lean even more heavily on nature; to impinge on forests and consume more wild meat to survive.

Grasslands claim their ground in Madagascar
- Grasslands cover most of Madagascar’s land area, but they are often regarded as nothing more than former forests, denuded by human destruction.
- In the last 15 years, scientists from Madagascar and abroad have set out to restore grasslands’ reputation as ancient and valuable ecosystems in their own right.
- New research shows that some of Madagascar’s grass communities are ancient, having co-evolved with natural fires and now-extinct grazing animals such as hippos and giant tortoises.

Marijuana cultivation whittling away Madagascar’s largest connected forest
- Northern Madagascar contains the largest block of connected forest left in the country.
- Tsaratanana Reserve is supposed to protect a large portion of this forest. However, satellite data and imagery show Tsaratanana is being cleared at a rapid rate.
- Local officials say slash-and-burn agriculture for marijuana cultivation is to blame. The Madagascar National Parks agency helped organize military deployments to the Tsaratanana area in 2014 and 2017, and is planning another intervention this year.
- Scientists say that if this deforestation continues, it will fragment the reserve’s well-connected forests and threaten the animals that live there — many of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Evidence that fish flourish in a community-managed marine area offers hope
- New research from Madagascar offers a glimmer of hope that locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), an alternative to conventional government-managed marine protected areas (MPAs), could help secure the richness of the seas.
- A study done in-house by Blue Ventures, a nonprofit that co-manages the Velondriake LMMA with local communities, found that the fish biomass was almost two times more in no-take zones than sites where fishing was allowed after six years.
- However, fish targeted by fishers did not increase in amount, which some experts point out would indicate that the LMMA is actually not effective.
- Study authors say local communities are able to enforce restrictions because they feel a sense of ownership, which is essential for a conservation project in poorer countries to succeed.

As visitors vanish, Madagascar’s protected areas suffer a ‘devastating’ blow
- The country has lost half a billion dollars in much-needed tourism revenue since the start of 2020 because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to official estimates.
- Tourism contributes toward funding conservation efforts in Madagascar’s network of protected areas; those protected areas that rely heavily on foreign visitors have been hit worst by the crisis.
- There are also fears that international funding, the primary support for conservation efforts in Madagascar, could be jeopardized as big donors face economic crises in their home countries.
- Greater impoverishment could hurt communities living near the protected areas and lead to even more unsustainable exploitation of forests and natural resources.

A ‘crazy beast’ that coexisted with dinosaurs discovered from Madagascar
- Adalatherium hui, which in Malagasy and Greek translates into “crazy beast,” was discovered from the study of a 66 million-year-old fossil from Madagascar.
- An early mammal species, it has a peculiar anatomy and a mosaic of features that is distinct from other mammals, from its peculiar teeth to its curved leg bones.
- It is also unusually large, the size of a house cat, compared to other mammals that coexisted with dinosaurs, which were no bigger than present-day mice.
- The researchers believe it is key to understanding the early evolution of mammals in the southern hemisphere.

COVID-19 will hurt Madagascar’s conservation funding: Q&A with Minister Vahinala Raharinirina
- There is growing concern that the COVID-19 crisis will enfeeble conservation efforts across the globe, particularly in developing countries.
- The concern is acute for Madagascar, one of the poorest nations in the world, which relies heavily on foreign funds to implement conservation programs.
- The disappearance of tourism revenue in the short term and the possible drying up of international funding and deepening impoverishment in the coming months and years could grievously endanger Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, Madagascar’s environment minister told Mongabay.

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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