When endangered overlaps with endemic, the result is all too often extinction. Scientists are alarmed by the increasing rate of vanishing species throughout the world, and few places have more unique treasures to lose than Madagascar.
Located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fifth largest island. Its population of 22 million inhabits an area roughly the size of Texas, a richly diverse land- and seascape of rainforests, highlands, desert, dry forest, and coral reefs. Unfortunately, as much as 80 percent of the island’s population lives in deep poverty. Since agriculture is the main livelihood, the toll on the land is heavy, with slash-and-burn practices destroying the native forests.
Madagascar’s endemic species thrived and diversified in isolation for millennia. Ninety-five percent of its reptiles, 92 percent of its mammals, and 89 percent of its plant life are found nowhere else on earth. Eleven thousand endemic plant species alone are found within the island’s diverse ecosystems. And the list continues to grow: over the past decade, scientists have discovered another 615 new species, including 41 mammals and 61 reptiles.
Fortunately, awareness of their unique natural heritage is growing among the Malagasy. In 2003, the government launched an initiative to protect at least 10 percent of the island’s wild areas. As of 2011, five strict nature reserves, 21 wildlife reserves, and 21 national parks had been established. Wildlife corridors are planned to link these protected areas, and in some villages, conservation education now begins at a young age in the elementary schools.
As in so many of the world’s remaining natural habitats, ecotourism offers a solution to balancing human livelihood with native biodiversity. Experience the natural wonders of Madagascar on Natural Habitat Adventures’ Madagascar trip, a two-week odyssey into an island paradise with no peer on the planet.Lisa Poppleton.