Madagascar is known as “The Eighth Continent” largely because its birds, animals and plants are absolutely nothing like those of any of the other seven continents and presents travelers with an “other-worldly” experience. Despite being a stone’s throw from the African mainland (250 miles from coast of Mozambique), it’s nothing at all like Africa proper. This is likely because it has been isolated for so long – when it split away from India, it gradually drifted towards Africa and is now very close – albeit not close enough to have shared its birds or other wildlife, judging by its amazing faunal and floral uniqueness.
Over 70% of the 250,000 wildlife species in Madagascar are found nowhere else in the world. The same is true of the birds, with over 100 endemic species being found (more than half the total bird species), plus a further twenty near-endemics. And if you are a collector of bird families there are four here that are endemic - the Mesites, Asities, Bernierids, and Ground-Rollers. The Long-tailed Ground Roller, for example, represents an entire genus endemic to a small part of southwestern Madagascar.
Mammals are another key reason for visiting including many species of lemur. Although there is all of this variety to see, one challenge is that due to massive deforestation the species are mainly found in small pockets of habitat, often one hundred miles or more from each other, and it is only through the efforts of conservationists that we are able to enjoy these species today. Efforts to save species are continuing and recently the Madagascar Pochard has been found to survive at Lake Sofia. This is one of the world’s rarest birds and has disappeared from many sites where large areas of marshland have been converted to rice paddies.
A typical tour of Madagascar will allow you to see around 200 species of birds. Anyone deciding to visit independently should secure the services of an official national park guide at each site; these guides are absolutely brilliant at finding the birds and without their help you would be hard pressed to find many of the birds. This is a relatively expensive destination to visit but one to see soon before any more habitat is lost to agriculture.
Madagascar has the dubious distinction of being where internationally renowned bird watcher Phoebe Snetsinger saw her last bird - the Red-shoulderd Vanga (pictured below)- before her 1999 death in a vehicle accident. Contributed by Keith Betton/African Bird Club.
Visit from September-December to check out breeding plumage and behavior, which conveniently happens to fall between the cold, dry season and hot rainy season!
If your'e looking for attractions outside the birding world, January-March is peak season for Herpetofauna as well as orchids!
July-August, although the coolest time of the year, Whale watching season is in full swing!