After Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo, Madagascar with its capital, Antananarivo, is the 4th largest island on earth.
Its wonderful and unique bio-diversity may be severely threatened by deforestation and erosion but it is still home to what we believe to be two of the most impressive creatures of the natural world … the lemur and the chameleon.
Endemic to the island and on the list of endangered species for over 20 years, there are over 30 different types of lemur in Madagascar, ranging from the ringtailed, sifaka and common black to the red ruffed. All vary in size, all are cute and fluffy, some in National Parks are used to human presence and definitely recognise a banana when they see one. Here, photographs of these little primates we were fortunate enough to see (see also ‘A Passage to South Africa‘):
With its independently working eyes and tongue longer than its body, contrary to the received wisdom, a chameleon does not change colour to blend in with its surroundings. Colour change is triggered by mood. So when it attacks its prey, which it can’t see unless it moves, it changes hue. Over half the world’s species of chameleons live on Madagascar, among them the dwarf, short horned and Parson’s chameleon. We were fortunate enough to see several of these ‘earth lions’ on various hikes and walks. For the most part their colouring is strikingly pretty, their features less so!
Then throw in a croc or two for the perfect mix!
But what about the people, the population of over 23 million?
When we read statistics, it is a harsh reminder of just how very poor this massive country is despite its wealth of natural resources. Farming and fishing is at a subsistence level only; the fertility rate is 4.2 children, of which just about 10% are educated to secondary level leading to a literacy rate of around 60%. Over 50% of the population lives in extreme poverty, on an average wage of less than US$2 per day.
Yet those we met were delightfully friendly. What we didn’t see was what happens in urban areas and in Antananarivo where we know for a fact through friends that forced child labour is prevalent, as well as child begging where infants are deposited streets, fully encouraged by parents, and all because of the extreme level of poverty. Very, very sad – similar to a street scene we witnessed in Cambodia last year.
On a lighter and floral note, the ylang ylang or cananga tree is grown in Madagascar in ‘orchards’ and its fragrant flowers harvested and distilled for essential oils. Throughout the world it is a highly prized and pricey perfume ingredient.
Note: asterisked (*) photos courtesy of Peter (Laser)