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 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.

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.

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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