Remote island nations have always been fascinating centres of endemism. Primarily because, in isolation, its denizens have often evolved to fit what amounts to a unique ecology. Visit any island archipelago and there will be an array of unique species, plants and wildlife, specifically endemic to that land mass. Darwin’s evocative Galapagos Islands are a fantastic example of this…and so too is the world’s fourth largest island…Madagascar.
Madagascar is a nature enthusiast’s Shangri la. The statistics will boggle any mind! Eighty percent of all plants on Madagascar are endemic including five completely unique plant families…these include six of the world’s eight Baobab species. There are around three hundred species of bird of which sixty percent are found nowhere else on earth…these include four unique bird families and forty-two genera. It also sports two thirds of the world’s chameleon species and have many taxonomists believing that chameleons originated there. One cannot talk Madagascar without mentioning Lemurs. A completely unique primate group found only in Madagascar. There are around 103 species of lemur ranging from the small, nocturnal Aye Aye to the large arboreal and diurnal Indri.
There are no indigenous ungulates in Madagascar…no buffalo or wildebeest on those very African savannahs…and therefore no large carnivores as we understand them…no lion or cheetah or hyena. Because the abundant primate prey dwells largely in the canopies of the deciduous forest belt…a specialized hunter has evolved to hunt them up where they live. A voracious climbing killer related to mongoose and civet…with prehensile tail, semi retractile claws and flexible ankles…it is perfectly adapted for the hunt high in the trees. The yellowish eyes and bronze/chestnut fur give it a cougar like appearance…it is called the Fossa and is one of the world’s most unusual and enigmatic predators.
There is something incredibly visceral about a walk on a canopied trail in a forest reserve like Kirindy in western Madagascar…while large Sifaka lemurs hoot and bark in abject terror overhead as they spot a Fossa beginning a climb toward them.