Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, is located in the Indian Ocean 250 miles off
the southeastern coast of Africa. At 226,658 square miles in size, Madagascar
and the tiny Comoro Islands to its north provide the world's only present-day
native habitat to lemurs.
It's suggested that lemurs made their way to Madagascar from the larger African
continent millions of years ago and have since adapted and evolved into the
diverse number of species we see today.
The climate of Madagascar is tropical, with a rainy season lasting from December until
April and a dry season from May to November. The island's terrain is extremely
diverse, ranging from coastal beaches and lagoons to mountains,
rivers, grasslands, and desert. Many of Madagascar's plant and animal species
are found nowhere else in the world; the island's biology is even more diverse
than its geography.
In the past much of the island was covered by forest, but the majority of it —
up to 80% — has been destroyed, largely for economic
reasons such as logging and crop cultivation. The Malagasy people often carve out
a subsistence living on a per capita income equal to US$200 per year, so on an
individual level getting by often seems more important than preserving the environment.
With a human population topping 14 million, the island's natural
ecosystems are strained and the people of Madagascar and are facing the need to
address the problem of the diminishing rainforest habitat which is home to so
many unique forms of life. Efforts are underway to expand protected areas and
bring much-needed money to the country through ecotourism.