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

Rio Tinto-owned mine is polluting Malagasy water with uranium and lead, NGOs say
- Some sites near a Rio Tinto-owned mine in Madagascar have recorded uranium and lead levels 52 and 40 times in excess of WHO safe drinking water standards, a recent analysis found.
- Around 15,000 people in Madagascar’s Anosy region depend on these water sources, including for drinking, a coalition of NGOs in the U.K. and Madagascar, pointed out, calling on the company to provide safe drinking water to the communities.
- Mine operator QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), which is 80% owned by Rio Tinto, extracts ilmenite at the mine, a process that generates wastewater rich in minerals like uranium and lead, according to a report commissioned by the Andrew Lees Trust UK.
- QMM in its response to the NGOs indicated that the high concentrations were naturally occurring and denied that it was polluting the water.

Even as the government bets big on carbon, REDD+ flounders in Madagascar
- The Malagasy government’s decision to ban the sale of carbon credits as it reworks its REDD+ strategy has left all existing REDD+ projects in a limbo.
- The island nation only has a handful of projects, all helmed by foreign NGOs, which take advantage of the U.N.’s reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) program to raise money by selling carbon credits.
- Madagascar’s environment minister singled out an initiative by U.K.-based nonprofit Blue Ventures, criticizing it for striking a deal promising too little: $27,000 per year for 10 villages. The NGO disputes this appraisal.
- The government’s move to nationalize carbon ownership comes against the backdrop of familiar concerns about REDD+, in particular: how much do communities benefit from keeping forests standing?

China joins the foreign fleets quietly exploiting Madagascar’s waters
- For decades, fleets of industrial vessels from several nations have fished in Madagascar’s waters.
- Now China appears to have joined the fishing spree, sending at least 14 industrial longliner fishing vessels in the last several years, new evidence shows.
- Clues from official documents indicate that Madagascar’s government may have authorized these vessels to fish, at least since 2019.
- If so, the authorization process was not public, raising renewed concerns about the lack of transparency in Madagascar’s offshore fishing sector.

For Malagasy trapped in poverty, threatened lemurs and fossas are fair game
- Half of nearly 700 households surveyed in a recent study in Makira National Park in Madagascar reported eating lemur meat and a quarter had consumed fossa meat.
- The research conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society relied on indirect questioning and revealed unusually high levels of consumption of meat from the fossa, Madagascar’s top predator.
- Hunting pressure combined with shrinking habitats could lead to the local extinction of the indri, a critically endangered species and the largest living lemur, along with three other lemur species in the park.
- WCS’s current research will feed into a “behavior change campaign” to promote alternatives to hunting like poultry and fish farming, and harvesting of edible insects.

In Madagascar, cultural taboos can protect or harm the environment
- “Fady,” the Malagasy term for sociocultural and spiritual taboos or beliefs, greatly influence people’s daily lives in Madagascar.
- Fady are ancestral rules that can apply to a place, a person or even certain animals and plants.
- As they pertain to the natural world, fady can have either a positive or a negative impact on the environment and wildlife.

Madagascar’s vanishing trees
- Madagascar has a documented 2,900 endemic species of trees, but a new report shows that almost two-thirds of them are in danger of disappearing.
- Of the 3,118 species covered, more than 90% had never been systematically evaluated before, and one in 10 fell in the IUCN’s critically endangered category, a step away from going extinct in the wild.
- Though the island nation’s protected area network has expanded to more than 7 million hectares (17 million acres), a tenth of the tree species are found outside this safety net.
- Scientists are racing against the extinction clock to document this mind-boggling biodiversity and determine just how imperiled individual species are.

Ghost fish: after 420 million years in the deeps, modern gillnets from shark fin trade drag coelacanths into the light
- Undersea canyons off Madagascar may turn out to be the Indian Ocean epicentre for coelacanths, the remarkable “fossil fish” which re-surfaced from apparent extinction in 1938.
- Coelacanths have turned up with unexpected frequency in gill-nets set in deep waters to catch sharks for new, commercial markets.
- A worrying trend in recent coelacanth catches in Madagascar is the high proportion of pregnant females, which are thought to produce just 140 live babies during their entire lifecycle.
- Marine scientists are calling for reinforcement of conservation measures to protect this population from the pressure of incidental gill-net captures driven by the shark fin trade.

‘Bad science’: Planting frenzy misses the grasslands for the trees
- Planting trees by the millions has come to be considered one of the main ways of reining in runaway carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
- But experts say many tree-planting campaigns are based on flawed science: planting in grasslands and other non-forest areas, and prioritizing invasive trees over native ones.
- Experts point out that not all land is meant to be forested, and that planting trees in savannas and grasslands runs the risk of actually reducing carbon sequestration and increasing air temperature.
- The rush to reforest has also led to fast-growing eucalyptus and acacia becoming the choice of tree for planting, despite the fact they’re not native in most planting areas, and are both water-intensive and fire-prone.

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.

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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