Madagascar is a large island in the Southern Indian Ocean separated from Southern Africa by the Mozambique Channel. Having separated from mainland Africa about 160 million years ago, the biota on the island has evolved and diversified in isolation resulting in an exceptionally high number of animal and plant species which are found nowhere else in the world.
The development of these unique species is known as ‘endemism', and this together with the extreme threats to these species has led to it being classified by Conservation International as a ‘hot spot'. The world's 34 hot spots occupy under 3% of the worlds land surface but contain over 40% of all endemic species. All ‘hot spots' face extreme threats, including Madagascar's neighbouring islands of Mauritius, The Comoros, The Seychelles and Reunion Island.
Madagascar is globally renowned for its lemurs. Madagascar has more than 50 species of lemur, all of which are found nowhere else in the world. As well as the lemurs, 340 reptile species including more that half the world's chameleons live on the island. Of 222 amphibians, all but one found nowhere else, 50% of the bird species are endemic as are 90% of all Vascular plant species.
These animals and plants have however faced numerous threats since humans arrived between 1500 and 2000 years ago. It is estimated that only about 17 percent of the original vegetation of Madagascar remains, with most remaining forests found along the eastern, western, and southern coasts. Fifteen species of lemur have become extinct since humans arrived. The main threat to Madagascar's environment is the rapidly increasing human population. The poverty of the country compounds the problem with subsistence agriculture and hunting and timber extraction, existing problems and industrial and small-scale mining, growing threats.
So what does the future hold for the incredible biodiversity of Madagascar?
Earthwatch will continue to support projects in Madagascar and elsewhere which help ensure enhanced protection for threatened species and habitats. To strengthen this approach, Earthwatch will also work in partnership with organisations such as UNESCO, which is responsible for World Heritage status. A proposal to the World Heritage Convention listed Manombo as one of 5 sites in a south-eastern cluster proposed as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Although only about 2.7% of Madagascar's land area is presently officially protected, a promise to triple this over 5 years was made by the Malagasy President at the World Parks Congress in 2003.
Current Earthwatch Projects
Carnivores of Madagascar
Seven of the eight civet-like carnivores that stalk Madagascar's forests are found nowhere else in the world. The habits of many are virtually unknown, their population status a mystery. Dr. Luke Dollar and RAHAJANIRINA Léon Peirrot, working with veterinarian Dr. Julie Pomerantz, are assessing and monitoring the size and density of carnivore populations in these remarkable forests. Their research comes in the nick of time, as deforestation and hunting for bush meat threatens many of these unique mammals and their habitats.