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 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.

A chameleon not seen in a century reappears in a Madagascar garden
- Researchers recently rediscovered the Voeltzkow’s chameleon (Furcifer voeltzkowi) in an untamed hotel garden in northwestern Madagascar, after the species was “lost” for more than 100 years.
- The female chameleons were found to change color and pattern when interacting with males or when being handled by humans.
- While the species still needs to be officially evaluated by the IUCN, the researchers suggest that it should be considered an endangered species.

Lemurs might never recover from COVID-19 (commentary)
- This World Lemur Day, it is worth pointing out that the Covid-19 pandemic poses a threat to Madagascar’s endemic primates, which are some of the planet’s most endangered species.
- Almost all 115 species of lemurs are threatened with extinction and their habitats are rapidly disappearing on the island nation.
- The pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has emerged as a moment of reckoning for conservation efforts, exposing the risks of relying heavily on foreign revenue and not focusing enough on communities at the frontline of safeguarding biodiversity.
- This post is a commentary: the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

How do red-fronted lemurs behave? Candid Animal Cam is in Madagascar
- Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Madagascar shuts down ‘illegal’ gold mine but activists remain in legal limbo
- Earlier this month, Madagascar’s government suspended a controversial gold-mining operation in Vohilava commune in the country’s southeast.
- The project, a dredging operation in the Isaka River that allegedly uses mercury to separate gold from ore, has caused notable damage to the river, local economy, and public health, prompting near-unanimous local opposition.
- A demonstration in September against the mine prompted a visit by officials that led to the mine’s suspension.
- However, prosecutors are investigating six people for involvement in the demonstration, including one who was previously jailed as a result of his opposition to the mining project.

Madagascar experiments with drones for its massive reforestation effort
- Madagascar plans to acquire drones to help with its massive official reforestation campaign.
- The country aims to plant 60 million trees per year in an attempt to reconstruct its green architecture and restore ecological balance.
- It has already experimented with drones to help relief efforts during natural disasters and to deliver medical supplies in remote regions.

Madagascar’s top court criticizes government handling of mining project
- Australian firm Base Resources has been trying to develop a large mineral sands mining project in southwest Madagascar.
- A year ago, the project appeared close to securing the permits it needs to break ground, but its fortunes changed when the government suspended the project last November.
- Now, a branch of Madagascar’s Supreme Court has issued a report on the governance of the project that cites irregularities in the issuance of permits, the transference of land rights, the management of a protected area, and the consultation process with local people.
- Civil society groups are calling for the government to cancel the project, but it’s not yet clear when the government will make a definitive decision or how much the court’s report might influence it.

Indian embassy in Madagascar becomes first to go fully solar
- A solar power plant was inaugurated at the Indian embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2.
- It became the first Indian embassy in the world to be run entirely on solar power from the 8 KW plant.
- Madagascar has huge potential to develop solar energy, with almost all regions receiving 2800 hours of sunshine in a year.
- The environment minister acknowledged that with less than 15% of people having access to grid electricity embracing solar power was a way for Madagascar to develop and meet its climate goals.

Madagascar reopens national parks shuttered by COVID-19
- On Sept. 5, Madagascar began reopening all its national parks. They’d been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The pandemic has been devastating for local economies, which depend heavily on tourism.
- Madagascar authorities also announced further easing of restrictions throughout much of the island nation and the resumption of limited international flights.

Latin America has twice the plant life of Africa, SE Asia
- Latin America has more than twice as many plant species as tropical Africa and Southeast Asia and accounts for about a third of global biological diversity, concludes a new study published today in the journal Science Advances.
- Using botanical databases, researchers led Missouri Botanical Garden President Emeritus Peter Raven by found Latin America has 118,308 known species of vascular plants, the Afrotropical region has 56,451, and Southeast Asia has about 50,000.
- Latin America and the Afrotropical region are roughly equivalent in size, meaning that the Americas south of the Mexico-U.S. border have about twice the richness of species on a per-unit basis. But Southeast Asia, which is only a quarter the size of the other two regions, takes the biodiversity crown in terms of the density of species.
- The authors say that their research will be helpful in prioritizing conservation efforts, but that future data collection will be increasingly challenged by rapid habitat loss.

Madagascar introduces stoves that burn rice husks instead of forests
- Madagascar’s dependence on fuelwood is contributing significantly to the island’s deforestation.
- To meet demand, charcoal suppliers even take wood from protected areas and dig up tree stumps.
- A program aimed at changing wood consumption habits to alleviate pressure on both forests and household budgets is distributing new stoves that burn rice husks instead of charcoal.
- One million tons of rice husks go to waste in Madagascar each year. The program aims to turn this surplus into a biofuel that is cheaper and more sustainable than wood.

Madagascar giant frog is a new species, but also a deep-fried delicacy
- Two species of giant frog in the genus Mantidactylus from Madagascar have attracted researchers’ attention for their very large size, reaching body lengths of more than 10 centimeters, or 4 inches.
- A new genetic study has revealed the existence of a third species unknown until now: Mantidactylus radaka.
- The number of scientifically accepted Madagascan frog species now stands at 362 and many other species remain to be discovered.
- Scientists recommend further studies to evaluate the conservation status of giant frog habitats and species.

Ex-Wall Street ‘quant’ wields data to replant charred Madagascar rainforests
- After retiring early from a career as a quantitative analyst for stock portfolios worth billions of dollars, Matt Hill started a nonprofit to restore rainforest in eastern Madagascar.
- Applying the data skills he honed in his former career, Hill is working out better ways to regrow rainforest burned accidentally or for agriculture.
- Although few projects have adopted that kind of approach, it is gaining approval among reforestation experts internationally.
- They say reforestation can have far greater success if practitioners develop an evidence base to guide which tree species to plant, where and when to plant them, and how to grow them.

Madagascar minister calls protected areas a ‘failure,’ seeks people-centric approach
- Madagascar’s environment minister has criticized the way protected areas are managed in the country, setting the stage for a potential overhaul of the system to make conservation more people-centric.
- The stand has flustered some in the conservation community in Madagascar because it could mean reorienting their efforts in one of the planet’s most biodiverse countries, which is also extremely poor with high rates of environmental destruction.
- At a two-day meeting in late June, protected area managers, including a quasi-governmental agency and several international and local NGOs, shared details of their work, financial position, and challenges, with ministry officials.
- The ministry is expected to collate and analyze this information as a first step toward a broader evaluation and potential overhaul of the protected area system that could happen this year.

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.

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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