10 Madagascar Facts

  • Bunnik Tours
  • 08 Dec 23

Welcome to the enchanting world of Madagascar, a unique island nation that captivates the imagination with its unparalleled biodiversity, rich culture, and fascinating geological wonders.

Lemur in Andasibe National Park by Annelieke Huijgens

Lemur in Andasibe National Park by Annelieke Huijgens

From its distinct flora and fauna, including lemurs found nowhere else on Earth, to its diverse landscapes that range from lush rainforests to otherworldly limestone formations, Madagascar is a treasure trove of natural and cultural wonders waiting to be explored. So, fasten your seatbelts as we delve into the heart of this extraordinary island and unveil the mysteries that make Madagascar a one-of-a-kind destination.

 

1. The fourth largest island

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island, after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. It's often referred to as a “mini continent” because of its diverse geography and climate. The island's vast expanse encompasses a breathtaking range of landscapes, from dense rainforests and highland plateaus to semi-arid regions and pristine coastal areas.

 

2. Remarkable biodiversity

Madagascar is celebrated for its remarkable biodiversity, as indigenous flora and fauna have evolved in isolation since the country's separation from India 88 million years ago. Around 92% of the island's mammals, 89% of its plant species, and 95% of its reptiles are endemic to the island.

 

3. Lemurs, and lots of them

Madagascar Facts: lemur in Zombitse National Park
Zombitse National Park, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

Madagascar facts: lemur in Zombitse National Park
Zombitse National Park, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

If there’s one thing that Madagascar is known for, it’s their lemurs. Endemic to Madagascar, lemurs are the oldest living primates in the world, with over 100 species found on the island. Lemurs thrived with no mammal competition, evolving into an array of sizes and shapes, from the sizeable indri that weights up to 9.5kg, to the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, weighing in at a mere 30g! If we rewind 2,000 years to shortly after humans arrived on the island though, there were lemurs as large as male gorillas!

 

4. Chameleons big and small

Madagascar Facts: green chameleon in Ranomafana
Ranomafana, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

Madagascar Facts, brown chameleon in Anja reserve
Anja Reserve, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

Madagascar is home to around half of the world’s 150 species of chameleons, including the world’s largest and smallest chameleons. The Parson’s chameleon holds the title for the largest, reaching a length of up to 65 cm. On the opposite end of the scale is the Brookesia nana, also known as the nano-chameleon, identified in 2021 and measuring a mere 22 mm. Before the nano-chameleon's discovery, the smallest known chameleon was the Brookesia micra, also known as the Nosy Hara leaf chameleon, with a length of up to 29 mm. In fact, the Brookesia micra is so tiny that it can perch on the head of a matchstick!

 

5. Fossas, the lemurs natural predator

As if lemurs and chameleons weren’t intriguing enough, Madagascar is also home to the fossa, the largest carnivorous mammal on the island. With paws like a cat, a long tail like a monkey and round ears like a weasel, this fascinating creature is actually closely related to the mongoose. The fossa can weigh up to 10kg and is equally comfortable on the ground or amongst the trees. A carnivorous hunter, it preys on small to medium sized animals, but its main food source is the lemur!

 

6. Baobab trees

Madagascar facts: baobab trees
Reniala Reserve, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

Madagascar facts: Baobab tree in Reniala reserve in Madagascar
Reniala Reserve, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

Aside from its iconic wildlife, Madagascar is renowned for its towering baobob trees that can grow up to 30 metres tall and boast a lifespan of over 1,000 years. Recognised as the 'tree of life,' the baobab serves as a vital resource, offering sustenance, water, refuge, and medicinal benefits to both humans and animals. In Madagascar, there are six endemic species of baobab, contributing to the country's unique biodiversity, out of a global total of nine.

Visit the Reniala Reserve on our Discover Madagascar tour, uncovering an impressive forest of baobab trees.

 

7. The Malagasy people

2022 - Madagascar Facts - local people in Antanarivo selling fish
Antanarivo, Madagascar by Annelieke Huijgens

The indigenous people of Madagascar are known as the Malagasy and boast a diverse ancestry that traces back to Southeast Asia, Africa, and India. They speak the Malagasy language, an Austronesian language that is related to languages spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. French is also an official language, as Madagascar was a former French colony until 1960.

 

8.  Beloved ancestors

The Malagasy people hold deep reverence for their ancestors and engage in a tradition known as famadihana, also called the 'turning of the bones.' During the ceremony, people retrieve their ancestors' remains and rewrap them in fresh burial attire, rewriting their names on the cloth to keep their memory alive. Lifting the corpses above their heads they then dance around the tomb to music before returning them to the family tomb. This sacred ritual is performed every five to seven years to pay homage to the deceased, strengthen family connections, and seek blessings from the departed spirits.

 

9. Bumpy roads ahead

Madagascar has one of the least developed road networks in the world, according to The World Bank, with only 11% of the total roads being paved. Be prepared to travel on poorly maintained dirt roads, and for travel to take longer than expected!

Luckily though, on our Discover Madagascar tour, you can sit back and enjoy the scenery while our drivers navigate the roads throughout this beautiful country.

 

10. Bare knuckle fighting

Moraingy is a traditional martial art of Madagascar that involves bare-fisted striking, kicking, and sometimes headbutting. It stands as a ceremonial competition showcasing both strength and skill that is usually accompanied by music and performed at celebrations and ceremonies. It has spread to other Indian Ocean islands, such as Réunion, where it is known as moringue or batay kreol. 

 

Want to find out more about the fascinating country of Madagascar? Check out our Discover Madagascar tour!

 

People also read