Where in the World?


Madagascar is the world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. It lies 1,000 km off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Because of its isolation most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.

Here In the World!!

Madagascar is an island off the eastern coast of Africa

Malagasy People

The people of Madagascar, called Malagasy (Mal-uh-gas-ee), are thought to be descendents of Africans and Indonesians who settled on the island more than 2,000 years ago.

Many outside countries have tried to control Madagascar. In the 1600’s and 1700’s the island was visited by pirates and explorers from many countries in Europe and America. British military established some control over coastal portions of the island in the early 1800’s. The French invaded the island, kicked out the British and started a colony in 1883. The island has strong ties with France as well as economic and cultural links with French-speaking West Africa.

Malagasy people are very spiritual. They pay a lot of attention to their dead and spend much effort on ancestral tombs, which are opened from time to time so the remains can be carried in procession. After processions, the remains are rewrapped in fresh shrouds, or pieces of cloth.

Making A Living

Agriculture, fishing and forestry are the main ways people earn a living in Madagascar. The major products exported from the island include coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, and peanuts. Madagascar is the world’s largest producer and exporter of vanilla. Vanilla has historically been of particular importance to Madagascar’s economy. In 1985 when Coca-Cola switched its cola recipe to New Coke which involved less vanilla, Madagascar’s economy took a marked downturn, but returned to previous levels after the return of Coke Classic. Cattle in Madagascar are very highly valued, especially a large horned breed called Zebu.

The World Bank has estimated that 70% of Malagasy live on less than $1 US per day. Poverty and the competition for agricultural land have put pressure on the island’s dwindling forests, home to much of Madagascar’s unique wildlife and key to its emerging tourist industry.

Leaping Lemurs

Madagascar has been isolated from the neighboring continent of Africa for about 120 million years. This has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals. Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are endemic, found nowhere else in the world. Some ecologists refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent".

Conservation in Madagascar is critical if the island is to protect its varied fauna and flora most of which are endangered by human activity. A third of Madagascar’s native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970’s and only 18% remains intact.

Of all the wildlife living on the island of Madagascar lemurs are by far the most famous and familiar. Lemurs exist only in Madagascar and all of the 24 species are endangered or threatened.

The eastern or windward side of the island is home to tropical rainforests, while the western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric scrublands. Madagascar’s dry deciduous rainforest has been preserved generally better than the eastern rainforests or the high central plateau, presumably due to few people and scarce water supplies.

Madagascar FastFACTS

  • Full name: Republic of Madagascar
  • Population: 19.7 million (United Nations data 2007)
  • Capital: Antananarivo
  • Area: 587,041 sq km
  • Major languages: Malagasy (official), French
  • Full independence: June 26, 1960
  • Major religions: Indigenous beliefs, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 58 years (men), 61 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: Ariary (AR-ee-erh-ee)
  • Main exports: Vanilla, coffee, seafood, cloves, petroleum products, chromium, fabrics
  • What people earn per year (Gross National Income): US $290 (based on World Bank, 2006)
  • Internet domain: .mg
  • International dialing code: +261