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.
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.