Monday, 10 February 2014


Four years ago I spent two weeks in Madagascar as a tourist. It was the first developing country I’ve ever been to and it really touched me. It was –not surprisingly- completely different from anything I had seen before, but I have to say, no country has enchanted me the same way since then.

So, where is Madagascar exactly and what is it like?
  •           Situated in the Indian Ocean, about 9000 km from Paris and 400 km from the East coast of Africa
  •          Surface: 587 000 km2 (I can’t find this in the guidebook at the moment, but if I remember well this is approximately equivalent to France+Belgium+Luxembourg together)
  •          Population: 2x million inhabitants
  •          Capital: Antananarivo (Tananarive)
  •          Official languages: Malgache/Malagasy and French
  •          18 official ethnique groups
  •          Currency: Ariary
Madagascar disattached from the initial “super-continent” 25 million years ago, resulting in a fascinating range of animal and plant species that do not exist anywhere else (80-90% of the species are endemic to Madagascar!). It is this level of uniqueness that triggers the curiousity of environmentalists and biologists and tempts them to come and explore how this ‘Arch of Noah’ has evolved. Unlike Africa, Madagascar doesnt have large terrestrial mammals- here, the most well known and symbolic species are the lemurs. (And please remember that lemurs are NOT monkeys, they are prosimiens! ;-) There are about 30 different species, including the ring tailed lemurs (like King Julian from the famous Madagascar movie) and the aye aye.

If you prefer other breathtaking creatures you will not be disappointed: there are at least 60 species of cameleons, geckos, radiata turtles, insects, butterflies, giant jumping rats (lets hope I dont meet those in person...) and the infamous fosa (fox-like animals) who are the main predators of the lemurs (you are also likely to remember those if you’ve seen the Madagascar movie). A fun detail I found in the guidebook: the Malgache say that one eye of the cameleons looks to the future, the other to the past (as they can move separately). I was just trying to imagine how a human would look like with such eyes and it dawned on me that Jean-Paul Sartre must have had some link with cameleons... ;-)

Madagascar is a tropical environment and is really varied in terms of landscapes. Before the arrival of humans on the island, it was densly covered by forests. Today, only about 10% of these forests remain and deforestation (to use wood as a cooking fuel, a building material or make handicrafts) is one of the most pressing issues after poverty. Such violent rate of forest reduction also leads to further environmental problems, such as soil degradation/desertification, habitat loss, species extinction, modifications of the local climate etc. The economic situation, the constant political instability and the continuously increasing population rate exaggerate the problem even further.

I’ll plan to explore these topics in more detail in upcoming posts, but I wanted to give a general introduction first.
As for the location of the project, I’m going to the south-western coast of the island, somewhere between Toliara and Morombe. There are only dirt roads between these two cities, so it will take long hours in 4x4 vehicles to reach the site. Luckily, we start off by a 4 day overland tour from the capital to Toliara, so we’ll have time to get used to the local conditions and mentally prepare for the last part of the trip.

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