Incredible Islands – Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and is the fourth largest island in the world.

Although considered to be part of Africa, Madagascar’s true uniqueness was established because it split from the super-continent Gondwana many millions of years ago and has spent the past 160 millions of years adrift in the Indian Ocean, which gave rise to its native animals being almost entirely distinctive.

The island is home to about 12,000 plant species, the vast majority of which are endemic.  Madagascar is also home to lemurs, an order of primates which exist in the wild nowhere else in the world. Today there are almost 100 different types of lemur, which have each adapted to best survive their local environment.  Although no longer in existence, the largest of the lemurs grew to the size of gorillas, and lemurs vary in size and habits just as their cousins the primates of Africa and Asia do.

At 587,000 square kilometres (227,000 sq mi), Madagascar is larger than France.  The interior of the island is mountainous, whilst the coastal region if flatter.  Much of Madagascar used to be covered by dense rain forests, but intense logging has destroyed much of that, and is creating some major environmental concerns.  In fact, since the first humans arrived about 2,000 years ago, the island has lost about 90% of its forests.

Six different species of the rare baobab tree are also present on Madagascar, and it is this tree which suggest a long ago land connection  with the east coast of Africa and the west coast of Australia as both East Africa and Western Australia have species that are very similar to those found on Madagascar.  These trees can be quite tall, but they also feature very bulbous trunks which are used to store many tens of thousands of litres of water during the dry season.     

Madagascar is both the name of the island and the name of the country which occupies the island.

The first human inhabitants were thought to have arrived somewhere between 300 BC and 500 AD, and it is believed they travelled to Madagascar from Borneo and the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.  In fact, many of the traditions on Madagascar are similar to those found on Borneo and Sulawesi, particularly in the ways that many Madagascans treat their deceased ancestors, which are often dug up, their bones cleaned and re-wrapped in cloth, then re-buried.  Later on people arrived from East Africa and Arabia, and the country became a French Republic up until 1960, when it gained independence.

Today the residents speak a language called Malagasy, although French is also widely spoken and understood.   The capital city is called Antananarivo, but is often shortened to Tana and Tananarive.

Travelling in Madagascar can be difficult as the road system is poor, primarily because various governments have been both incompetent and corrupt.   There is a small rail system, but it too is poorly maintained and unreliable.

Most people who travel to Madagascar do so to view the amazing wildlife, and unless you are a true adventurer who can cope with frustration and hardship, you are best to arrange your travel through an inbound operator who can arrange you accommodation, transport and tours to the regions which interest you the most.

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