World's fourth-largest island, containing a lot of very rare animals due to its being cut off from the mainland of Africa and the forces that killed off the rare species on the mainland. Much of the country is devoted to agriculture, which is destroying the habitats of these animals. The country was formerly called the Malagasy Republic. A French colony until 1960, Madagascar claims a lot of the small islands in the area which are still administered by France.

Nicknamed the “Great Red Island” because of the red soil caused by the presence of murrum (solid ironstone) and laterite combined with other red earths. (James Martin)

May I announce to you that Madagascar is the naturalists’ promised land? Nature seems to have retreated there into a private sanctuary, where she could work on different models from any she has used elsewhere. There, you meet bizarre and marvelous forms at every step... Philibert Commerson, 1771. French naturalist.

History:
Separated from eastern Africa 165 million years ago, the island became a living laboratory for evolution, spawning asexual myriad plants and animals unlike any others. The island is the fourth largest in the world, located in the Indian Ocean. It is crossed by the Tropic of Capricorn near the southern town of Toliara. Government is under a 1992 constitution, an interim government was set up, with a 31-member assembly and a directly elected president, serving a five-year term.

Madagascar got its independence in 1960. Antananarivo, formerly Tananarive, city, capital of Madagascar and of Antananarivo Province. It is at the center part of the island of Madagascar, on the slopes of a rocky ridge that rises to about 1435 m (about 4700 ft). This city is the chief economic, cultural, and administrative center of the country. The city was founded as a fortress in the early 17th century by the Merina rulers, who made it their chief residence in the 1790s; their large palace still overlooks the city from the top of the ridge. The community grew in importance as the Merina dynasty, notably Radama I, gained control of most of the island in the 19th century. The French captured the city in 1895, and subsequently it became the capital of the French dependency of Madagascar. (Antananarivo 1996)

Lemur:
Segnbora-t when speaking of rare species, would include the lemur in its list. The lemur plays a major role in Madagascar, since endangered, the rainforests have been preserved. Its Latin name (lemures), or nocturnal spirits. It is a common name for a family of Primitive Eurasian primates. The family has three genera and nine species, which are confined to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. Ongoing habitat loss endangers most lemur species. The lemur feeds mainly on flowers, leaves, and fruit, supplemented by birds’ eggs, birds, and insects. They are usually active during the day. They usually walk on all fours. They are gregarious and usually bear one or two young a year. Lemurs make up the family Lemuridae. (Lemur 1996)

Other rare species in Madagascar include:

  • Hazomalany, the most valuable tree in the baobab forest. It's termite resistant.
  • Aepyornis, the world’s largest dodo known bird. -extinct as of 500 years ago.
  • Aye-Aye, endangered primate found only in the dense bamboo areas.
  • Jaragua Sphaero, the worlds’ smallest lizard, 16 millimeters, and can fit on an US dime.

Valiha:
The Valiha is a tube zither, a musical instrument, used to perform today in Madagascar discos. It is played with other common instruments such as the guitar and drums. Interesting enough the Valiha is the instrument heard at circumcision parties. It is the national instrument of Madagascar. It is often made from a wooden oblong box and bicycle-brake cable. (Roger 1986)

Rainforests:
The changing face of Madagascar is caused by the Legacy of misuse. Wounded landscapes dominate Madagascar’s central plateau, where grass fires are set each dry season to produce new shoots, known as a green bite, for livestock. Following heavy rains, rampant erosion of the once wooded hills turns the rivers into arteries that hemorrhage red clay for miles out to sea. Similar degradation is under way in the tropical rain forest zone on the eastern seaboard, once blanketed with jungle foliage. Livestock is eating away the landscape. People are burning down rainforests to make more room for cattle. The UN and other organizations have signed deals to pay Madagascar money to not touch certain rainforest areas, and in return we get to send researchers.

Because of the remaining rainforests, there is still enough to be the leading exporter for vanilla. Got to love that taste, definitely in ice-cream.


Sources:
Madagascar, National Geographic, February 1987.
Tiny lizard illustrates big lessons, Washington Post. 2002. http://www.bio.psu.edu/faculty/hedges/news/news133-US-MSNBC.htm
“Aye-Aye,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (C) 1993-95 Microsoft corporation. All rights reserved. (C0 Funk and Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Madagascar,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (C) 1993-95 Microsoft corporation. All rights reserved. (C0 Funk and Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Antananarivo,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (C) 1993-95 Microsoft corporation. All rights reserved. (C0 Funk and Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Traditional Valiha of Madagascar,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (C) 1993-95 Microsoft corporation. All rights reserved. (C0 Funk and Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.
“Lemur,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (C) 1993-95 Microsoft corporation. All rights reserved. (C0 Funk and Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.

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