Thursday, 22 December 2011

Madagascar's long isolation from the neighboring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals

Madagascar is a country that occupies a large island of the same name, located in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world.

While Madagascar is an island in the Indian Ocean, it was originally settled by people of Indonesian and African descent, which you can clearly see when you look at the inhabitants. Others have suggested that the people of Madagascar descended from Indonesians and Africans who mixed before their arrival on the isolated island, but studies prove people of Madagascar came from Borneo and Africa. It is not fully known how the inhabitants came there or if they were there already.

Only later did Arabs, Indians, and Chinese immigrants mix into the population of the island. The Malagasy way of thinking is a mixture of cultures, as well as their appearance and fashion style. It is a melting pot. Madagascar is part of the African Union, which is now being reconsidered due to the recent 2009 political turmoil. That said. it is essential to the people of Madagascar that tourism continues to thrive. And there is no reason why it should not. There is no violence related to the political crisis and certainly nothing a tourist needs to concern themselves with.

Madagascar's long isolation from the neighboring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent". Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity, as a third of its native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970s and since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest. Most lemurs are listed as endangered or threatened species.

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 shrublands. Madagascar's dry deciduous rain forest has been preserved generally better than the eastern rainforests or the high central plateau, presumably due to historically low population densities.

The climate is tropical along the coast, temperate inland, and arid in the south. The weather is dominated by the southeastern trade winds that originate in the Indian Ocean anticyclone, a center of high atmospheric pressure that seasonally changes its position over the ocean. Madagascar has two seasons: a hot, rainy season from November to April; and a cooler, dry season from May to October. There is, however, great variation in climate owing to elevation and position relative to dominant winds. The east coast has a subequatorial climate and, being most directly exposed to the trade winds, has the heaviest rainfall, averaging as much as 3,500 mm (137.8 in) annually. This region is notorious not only for a hot, humid climate in which tropical fevers are endemic but also for the destructive cyclones that occur during the rainy season, coming in principally from the direction of the Mascarene Islands. Because rain clouds discharge much of their moisture east of the highest elevations on the island, the central highlands are appreciably drier and, owing to the altitude, also cooler. Thunderstorms are common during the rainy season in the central highlands, and lightning is a serious hazard.

Antananarivo receives practically all of its average annual 1,400 mm (55.1 in) of rainfall between November and April. The dry season is pleasant and sunny, although somewhat chilly, especially in the mornings. Although frosts are rare in Antananarivo, they are common at higher elevations.

Tsingy de Bemaraha is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is Madagascar‘s largest reserve (152,000 hectares). The fascinating raised limestone plateau is decorated with a frail, chaotic razor-sharp collection of pinnacles, the “Tsingy”. Areas of deciduous forest also provide the chance to see brown lemurs and a variety of bird life, we may also meet the rare all white Decken’s sifaka. The great variety of flora includes: aloes, orchids, numerous pachypodium and baobabs. The deciduous forest is home to over 50 species of birds; 7 species of lemurs (including the all-white Deckens sifaka) and the rare stump-tailed chameleon (Brookesia perarmata). The site of Bemaraha is managed under special UNESCO and access is restricted and the areas you are allowed to visit vary from time to time. Located approximately 180 km north of Morondava.

Avenue of the Baobabs is an extra-ordinary stand of huge baobab trees. Located 45 minutes north of Morondava on Madagascar's west coast it is one of the most visited sites in the Menabe Region. A candidate as one of the 7 Wonders of Africa; efforts are underway to protect this unique grove of more than a dozen trees. Some of the trees, Adansonia grandidieri, are over 800 years old and reach a height of 30+ meters. Truly a photographers paradise and especially beautiful at sunset.

Everyday life in Madagascar is regulated by numerous fady (taboos) which vary from one region to another. They can forbid foods (pork, lemur, turtle... ), wearing clothes of a particular colour, bathing in a river or a lake. Observance of "Fady" is mostly limited to rural areas, as tourists will most likely not run into this problem if they stay in the main towns. However, there are Fady's in places such as Antananarivo but most Vazaha are exempt.

Fady are attributed to ancestors, to whom Malagasy adopt a respectful attitude whatever their religion. It is safest to respect these prohibitions and not violate them, even if you feel they don't make sense. Inform yourself about local fady when you arrive in a new place.

When addressing anyone older than you or in a position of authority (e.g. police, military, customs officials), use the word "tompoko (toom-pook)" the same way you would use "Sir" or "Ma'am" in English. Respect for elders and authority figures is important in Madagascar.

Do not ever take photos of a tomb without permission. Always ask permission before taking photos. Also, if you go to a remote village or hamlet it is fomba or tradition that you first meet with the head of the village if you have business in the village. Meeting this person can save you a lot of time if you have work to do there.

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