Madagascar | Animals, People, and Threats

Madagascar | Animals, People, and Threats


The island nation of Madagascar has developed its own distinct ecosystems and extraordinary wildlife since it split from the African continent an estimated 160 million years ago. Approximately 95 percent of Madagascar’s reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth.

  • ContinentAfrica
  • SpeciesLemur, Tortoise, Gecko, Chameleon

Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world’s fifth largest island; at 144 million acres, it’s almost the size of Texas. Madagascar’s climate is tropical along the coast, temperate inland, and arid in the south. The island harbors lush rain forests, tropical dry forests, plateaus and deserts. Its more than 3,000 miles of coastline and over 250 islands are home to some of the world’s largest coral reef systems and most extensive mangrove areas in the Western Indian Ocean.



A dizzying range of plants and animals make their home on the island. More than 11,000 endemic plant species, including seven species of baobab tree, share the island with a vast variety of mammal, reptiles, amphibians, and others. From 1999 to 2010, scientists discovered 615 new species in Madagascar, including 41 mammals and 61 reptiles.

Madagascar has several critically threatened species including the Silky Sifaka, a lemur, which is one of the rarest mammals on earth. Its name—“angel of the forest”—refers to its white fur. Another threatened species, the rare Ploughshare tortoise, is found only in a small area of northwestern Madagascar where as few as 1,000 of these animals survive. Ploughshare tortoises can be sold illegally for up to $200,000 on exotic pet markets.

People & Communities

Vanilla farmers in Madagascar.

The diversity of the island is seen everywhere. Madagascar is home to more than 21 million people with a wide array of faiths and customs. The Malagasy (as the people of Madagascar are known) are descendents of settlers from Borneo and East Africa and draw their cultural heritage from Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and the Middle East.

More than 20 ethnic groups coexist on the island. Their common language, also called Malagasy, is most closely related to a language spoken in southeast Borneo. A majority of the population—80 percent of which is estimated to live below the poverty line—depends on subsistence farming for survival. More Information to


Madagascar’s stunning species and unique habitats are threatened by demands from today’s global markets and from the growing needs of the local population.

Deforestation and Forest Degradation

The small-scale but widespread clearance of forests, primarily for firewood and charcoal production, is jeopardizing the island’s habitats. As a result, several charismatic species such as lemurs and chameleons that evolved here over millions of years may become extinct before the end of the century.

For the unique species of the island, loss of vital habitat is a disaster and the increased access to species has also exacerbated the international trade in Madagascar’s wildlife. Today, many animals and plants are threatened, with rosewood trees, tortoises, chameleons, geckos and snakes the most targeted by traffickers.

What WWF Is Doing

WWF aims to protect, restore and maintain Madagascar’s unique biodiversity in harmony with the culture and livelihoods of the local people. We work closely with governments, scientists, industry and local communities on several areas that present the best opportunities to secure the future for the island’s people and species.

Protecting the Dry and Spiny Forests

WWF has developed a plan to address immediate threats to Madagascar’s southernmost forests and help local communities manage their natural resources more sustainably.

Sustaining Livelihoods of Coastal Communities

WWF works with traditional fishermen and government authorities to manage marine and coastal resources so that they not only contribute to conservation but also benefit local communities.

Adapting to Climate Change

WWF helps decision makers, technical officers, and local authorities to develop and implement responsive strategies to protect local communities and natural ecosystems from the expected impacts of climate change.


  • Expanding and Consolidating Madagascar’s Marine Protected Areas Network

    Ministries have come together to support the project and its goals. Through this cooperation and strong interest from the president, the project will safeguard Madagascar’s marine resources into the future. The project works on tripling the number of Marine Protected Areas and strengthening their management.