Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, sits just off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Isolation from neighboring continents for 150-180 million years created a "living laboratory" for evolution, and the rich biodiversity leads some scientists to call Madagascar the "seventh continent." The sub-humid forests on the island are scattered like emeralds throughout the central plateau, surrounded by degraded forests, secondary grasslands, and exotic tree plantations.
When traveling through the sub-humid forests of Madagascar you are likely to see species unlike those found anywhere else on Earth. In fact, it’s typical for 80 to 90 percent of the species in all taxonomic groups found here to be endemic! More endangered and critically endangered primates live on Madagascar than anywhere else in the world. Ten species of lemurs are near-endemic to this region, and, like many species on the island, they are under constant threat.
If you focus your attention on the branches of one of the many flowering trees in the sub-humid forests of Madagascar, you might see a black lemur using his long, bushy tail for balance as it looks down at you with its big, golden eyes. You might even hear some grunts as it tells the other two to fifteen lemurs in his group that you are watching them. Black lemurs are about the size of domestic cats and feed on fruits and leaves in the forest canopy. You might also see one of Madagascar’s many chameleon species, although it would probably see you first: By rotating each eye independently, chameleons can see 360° around them without moving their heads. If you watch one of these chameleons for a while, you may see it snatch an insect from a nearby leaf with a tongue longer than its body, or you may see it change color as it responds to changes in temperature, light, or mood. Keep an eye out, too, for the many species of leaf-tailed gecko blending into the forest cover. One of these species rolls into a ball, drops to the ground, and rushes into the underbrush when it is threatened. Given Madagascar’s incredible biodiversity, it is possible that if you spend enough time looking, you might even discover a new species!
Cause for Concern
Since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original forest cover and many of its endemic species. For example, the world’s largest flightless bird, the ten-foot-tall "elephant bird" Aepyornis, once lived in this ecoregion, as did the pygmy hippopotamus, the giant tortoise, and 16 additional species of lemur, including a giant ground-dwelling species. Today’s species face a similar fate as their habitats are destroyed. In addition to habitat destruction, the exportation of reptiles for the pet trade has greatly reduced the population of leaf-tailed geckos and chameleons.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001