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Articles Blog

Madagascar's Menagerie

Karyn Planett

The Wild and The Wooly

They creep, they crawl, they slime and slither. Screech and shriek, whine and whimper. Slide and glide, skip and flip. Madagascar is a wildlife lover’s paradise rich with a cast of furry characters worthy of a Hollywood film.

Well, in some ways, Madagascar was already the animals’ paradise. They live in a world somewhat untouched by the forces beyond their island borders. Madagascar’s isolation from the outside world has allowed Mother Nature to script a drama like nowhere else on earth. By the way, Madagascar is approximately the same size as Texas. And specialists speculate that there could be in excess of 200,000 animal species in Madagascar today. Of those little buggers, approximately eight out of ten live nowhere else on the planet, except in zoos.

If that isn’t a staggering-enough fact, just know that scientists believe the dinosaur fossils found here date back 230 million years and are, they claim, the very oldest that have been discovered. Another Madagascar wildlife shocker is that the “world’s largest flightless bird”, a whopper known as the elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus), stood nearly twice as tall as a grown man. It died out not so very long ago, in scientific terms, and their old eggs are occasionally still found in the country’s southern regions.

The Star Of The Show

Front and center, hands down, the Madagascar lemur is the star of the show. And, why not? It’s got an adorable face and Keane-size eyes, giving it a perpetually surprised “Holy Cow!” kind of look. Plus a really long ringed tail and a nature that allows it to be domesticated to varying degrees. Before man arrived to show everyone who was king of the jungle, giant lemurs the size of gorillas also roamed here. Man, however, managed to wipe them out within a short period of time along with a whole host of other species. Today, smarter minds prevail, prompted not only by a greater understanding of the ecosystems and wildlife preservation but also by the financial windfall of eco-tourism.

So, here are a few interesting facts about lemurs. These primates, well many of them anyway, live in small family groups with the females at the top of the pecking order. This is inconsistent with other primate groups but perhaps “glass ceiling” isn’t part of their lexicon. As well, many have pronounced noses increasing an acute sense of smell that they use for a whole host of reasons.

Of the approximately 100 species of lemurs living in Madagascar, some measure so small they could nap in your espresso cup. They’re called the Madam Berthe mouse lemurs. The largest non-extinct version, the Indri, can weigh up to 15 pounds. His local name, “babakoto”, means “little father.” The Indri’s powerful legs allow them to leap tall trees with a single bound plus he sings like a whale. The sifaka is the one you’ve seen on TV literally dancing across the sand in little sideways skips. Other curious behaviors include that of the ring-tailed lemur who is a sun-lover. He sits bolt upright, legs akimbo, hands of his skinny knees looking much like a yoga student holding his “sunworship” pose. Then you’ve got your wooly lemurs, your fat-tailed dwarf lemurs, grey gentle lemurs, bamboo lemurs, brown lemurs, ruffled lemurs, weasel lemurs, mongoose lemurs, dwarf lemurs and some little hairballs known as aye-ayes. They’re the ones with the bright orange eyes.

Mother Nature Didn’t Stop There

Undaunted by the task at hand, MN also went about creating curious-looking baobab trees, even bats and birds in a rainbow of colors. Then there are the reptiles and frogs, and that’s a strange-looking lot it must be said. Chameleons are those high-viz colored lizards that zap some hapless insect with their lightening-fast tongues. Depending on the chameleon’s size, and not counting his tail, some of these lizards have tongues up to twice their body length … the better to snag their prey with. Plus, their intended main course never stands a chance because they probably thought their predator was a twig or leaf or something else because they are camouflaged to the nines. By the way, Madagascar’s Brookesia Peyriersia, a weensy wee “pygmy” chameleon, is among the world’s smallest reptiles. It can actually sit comfortably on the tip of your finger.

Then you’ve got your uroplatus, the leaf-tailed geckos that look just like … leaves, hence the name. They’re really hard to spot, even for the experts who actually know where to search. And Madagascar is home to a whole host of frogs of every shape, size, and color.

Well, there are so many more bizarre little creatures that lurk in the deep dark of Madagascar’s wilds. Thankfully, the world’s eco-leaders have shined their conservation spotlight on this bio-heaven and have worked magic raising awareness, raising funds, and creating protected habitats for this parade of the animal kingdom’s most unique members.