Madagascar is an island country off the south-east coast of Africa – a paradise of rainforests, beaches and deserts filled with a unique assortment of animals and plants.
Amazing Species of Madagascar
It is believed by scientists that Madagascar was attached to Africa about 165 million years ago, but drifted about 500 kilometres away during the break-up of the supercontinent known as Gondwana. During this break, many species of animal drifted with the island and became separate from others of their species.
Over time – due to different habitats, food sources and geographical conditions – the species of Madagascar evolved in a completely different way to their relatives on the mainland of Africa, creating hundreds of new species. This evolutionary phenomenon is known by biologists as ‘Allopatric Speciation’ and has been the cause of over 1000 new animal species, and 11,000 new plant species, which are found nowhere else in the world but Madagascar. Approximately 95 percent of Madagascar’s reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth.
Perhaps the most famous of all Madagascar’s wildlife is the lemur. There are over 100 different species and subspecies of lemur; all of which are endemic to Madagascar. The ring-tailed lemur is the most well-known since its depiction as King Julien in the 2005 animated film Madagascar.
A dizzying range of plants and animals make their home on the island of Madagascar. Here are five amazing species that you should get to know:
Silky Sifaka (Propithecus Candidas)
One of the many species of lemur, the Silky Sifaka is covered in long white fur and is known by locals as the ‘angel of the forest’. It is only found in a small region in the north-east of Madagascar. This highly social, arboreal creature is usually found in groups of two to nine, feeding on leaves and sometimes dirt. Sadly, the Silky Sifaka is critically endangered due to deforestation and hunting. There are somewhere between 100 and 1000 left in the wild and reintroduction would be impossible as none have ever survived in captivity. Added to this, the Silky Sifaka only breeds on one day each year, and females typically give birth to a single infant once every two years
Aye-Aye (Daubentonia Madagascariensis)
The aye-aye is one of the strangest looking creatures in the world. This lemur has large yellow eyes, oversized ears and elongated fingers. Interestingly, its middle finger is extremely thin in contrast to its other fingers and is its main sensory organ. It feeds mainly on the inside of Ramy nuts, palm tree nectar and insect grubs. Due to its strange appearance, many locals believe it is a bad omen and must be killed on sight to prevent bad luck, contributing to its endangered status. Thankfully, its numbers are not as low as was once thought and around 50 are living in captivity.
Malagasy giant rat (Hypogeomys Antimena)
The largest rodent of Madagascar, the Malagasy giant rat is a jumping rat similar in appearance to a rabbit. It grows to about 30 centimetres long and often stands up on its back legs, especially when eating. When faced with danger it can jump up to a metre. It eats mainly fallen fruit, seeds and leaves and lives in a large burrow. The Malagasy giant rat is monogamous; mating for life. Unlike other rodents, it is not prone to overpopulation as it only produces one to two offspring per year. In fact, it is endangered due to habitat loss, slow reproduction, and limited range.
Fossa (Cryptoprocta Ferox)
A relative of the mongoose, the Fossa is Madagascar’s largest predator, growing up to 6 feet in length and feeding on lemurs, Malagasy giant rats and many other small animals of the forest. It has retractable claws like a cat and lives in both the trees and on the ground. Its tail assists it to balance so it can move swiftly through the tree branches, allowing it to be the adept predator that it is. This is also the reason it is considered a mystery by researchers, as its ability to move through the trees so rapidly has made it difficult to study. It is listed on the IUCN red list as vulnerable, due to habitat loss as well as being killed by farmers as it is seen as a pest and a threat to livestock.
Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys Yniphora)
A rather small type of tortoise, the Ploughshare tortoise has a tall dome-like shell and a plate projected from the front of it (where it derives its name). The male uses the plate to fight with other males during breeding season, hooking their opponent and flipping them over. It feeds mostly on grass and other plants, though sometimes on the droppings of nearby mammals. Unfortunately, the Ploughshare tortoise is critically endangered due to hunting, the illegal pet trade (where it can sell for up to $200,000 USD), the introduction of bush pigs which are main predators and also uncontrolled fires lit by farmers. The babies take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity making it difficult to save the species, and it is believed it will be extinct in less than a decade.
Several of the species listed above, as well as many more plants and animals within Madagascar, have become endangered since the arrival of humans on the island 2,000 years ago. The biggest threats to the wildlife of Madagascar are deforestation – mostly as a source of firewood and charcoal for the local people – and the illegal wildlife trade, with many species such as tortoises, geckos and chameleons being highly trafficked.
Wildlife groups in Madagascar are working to save these species by educating locals, running community-led conservation programs and running captive-breeding programs for some animals. The best solution, however, is thought to be ecotourism, which is a growing rapidly in the region, bringing revenue into the country and providing education and jobs in the field which can help the local people, while also raising awareness.
Download our mobile game app, World of the Wild! Click here to download.
Sign up for My Green World’s newsletter here.