Madagascar …

I’m leaving today.

I have been to a lot of out of the way places and the most frequent response from friends and co-workers has been “why?” … but that’s not the case with Madagascar. It seems that everyone has their own inner Madagascar, it may not be the first place on their bucket list, but when you mention it, eyes light up. Is it the movies, is it the Lemurs at the zoo or is it some TV documentary?

If you allow Australia the privilege of being an island as well as a continent then Madagascar is the fifth largest of the world’s islands. It’s about 1500 km top to bottom and about 570 km wide at its widest point. It’s about 420 km west of its nearest neighbour, Mozambique. The central highlands range from about 750 to 1500 metres. The east coast gets the rain, the west and south coastal regions are dry.

Madagascar was part of Gondwana and although it is now close to Africa it parted from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. It kept company with India until about 88 million years ago. Its prolonged isolation has given it a very special evolutionary history. If friends and co-workers had said “why?’ instead of “ooh” this would have been my answer – to see the wildlife.

The population is a little over 22 million and on average they survive on about $450 a year.

Human settlement first came from the east some time between 350 BC and 550 AD, making Madagascar one of the last substantial land masses to receive the benefit of people. The founding population is estimated to have been around 60 to 200 individuals based on genetics. They likely arrived by outrigger canoe from Borneo. Subsequent settlement was mainly from subsaharan Africa.

Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemurs (a type of prosimian primate), the carnivorous fossa and many birds. According to Avibase there are 300 species of bird and 108 are endemic. The chameleons are another highlight, the island is home to two-thirds of all the world’s chameleon species and is possibly where they first evolved.

Some of the animal colonists have had better luck than others, the Malagasy Hippos are gone unless I happen to stumble across the kilopilopitsofy, although the Nile Crocodile is worth looking out for (diligently). The Elephant Bird survived until the 17th or 18th century. They stood about 3 metres tall, weighed about 400 kg and laid eggs which could be greater than a metre in diameter.

Now where did I put my passport and the tickets?

I will not be posting until my return so please, call back in about three weeks.

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