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Madagascar

Madagascar, sometimes called the “Red Island”, is the fourth largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Located off south-eastern Africa, this land is home to an astonishing diversity of unique animal and plant species, including lemurs and baobabs, giant trees that swell with water.

A place like no other

Madagascar has among the world’s most diverse wildlife. Eighty percent of the island’s animal species are endemic, meaning they originated here. This endemism is due to Madagascar’s isolation, which gave rise to flora and fauna that evolved for millions of years cut off from the African continent. This isolation allows scientists to better understand the evolution of species, including how they adapt over time to their environment.

Madagascar is the home of the lemurs, a unique order of primates and distant cousins of African monkeys. Over 70 types of lemurs inhabit the island, including species found nowhere else. Ninety percent of the world’s lemur population lives here. Another species is also present on the neighbouring island of Mayotte. Due to Madagascar’s isolation, these unusual animals evolved apart from the rest of the world and developed traits uniquely their own. 

Lemurs are very shy and not easy to spot in the wild. Their name is derived from the Latin word for “ghost”. The indri is the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs, and is well-known for its peculiar call, which resembles that of a humpback whale. The ring-tailed lemur is considered the best-known, thanks to its mask-like features and black and white striped tail. The mouse lemur is the smallest of the order, and also the smallest primate. Resembling a rodent, this creature can fit in the palm of your hand.

Lemurs are essentially arboreal, feeding on the fruit and leaves of trees. They function somewhat as the gardeners of the forest, since they help pollinate the trees. Lemurs are ill-suited to living on the ground or moving along it for great distances. Instead, they move through the trees from branch to branch. Deforestation in Madagascar could have fatal consequences for the lemurs, since they require forested corridors to spread out and avoid consanguinity.

Recent scientific discoveries suggest that the ancestors of the lemurs arrived on the shores of Madagascar about 50 million years ago, after hitching a ride here on pieces of driftwood. Researchers arrived at this hypothesis by applying computer models normally used to analyze climate patterns and ocean currents.

 

 

 

Related articles
36 - Kingdom of the Lemurs
Olivier Behra’s livelihood is focussed on preserving the island of Madagascar and its natural wonders, which include the lemurs, a primate species unique to this land.
35 - Wildlife Adventurer
Steve Goodman, specialist in land mammals and Bohemian-spirited adventurer, takes us to Madagascar to discover the island’s little-known and unique animals.
Steve Goodman
Steve Goodman takes us to Madagascar to discover the island’s little-known and unique animals.
Olivier Behra
Olivier Behra is working hard to preserve the natural wonders of Madagascar.
Links
Olivier Behra (French website)
ONG L’homme et l’environnement (French website)
Lemurs' Park, Madagascar (French website)
Vahatra Association Vahatra Association promotes the conservation and the management of Madagascar's biodiversity.
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