Sifaka lemur

Nature of Madagascar

Nature surrounds you, though it's rarely untouched.


Lemurs and chameleons - the two iconic vertebrates of Madagascar. They are both widespread throughout the island, in their various guises, and quite easy to find and observe. But don't expect any David Attenborough-like wildlife spectacular, unless you are prepared to travel to those inaccessible pockets where few are willing, or able, to go.

Common brown lemur

Most wildlife experiences will be in degraded environments with animals that have become habituated to contact with humans. If you want to go on a real wildlife safari you would be better off travelling to the game parks of continental Africa, or to those in India and parts of Southeast Asia. Other places like Australia also offer far more rewarding opportunities for interaction with wildlife in natural habitats.

Black and white ruffed lemur

These observations aside, lemurs are endearing little creatures. Imagine a smart and agile possum or cat with fingers and toes instead of paws. If you go looking in any of the major parks or reserves you are guaranteed to see several different varieties of lemurs. The common brown is, not surprisingly, the most common. Ringtails, sifakas, and indri are also relatively easy to spot. The common brown is also the only variety, so far, to adapt Madagascar's advancing eucalypt forests, feeding on the bloom.


Chameleons, Madagascar's other iconic vertebrate, are also relatively easy to come across, depending on the sharpness of your, or your guide's, vision. And you will need to look hard, while they don't move fast they are considered to be masters of camouflage, although contrary to popular belief they don't change their colour to merge with their environment. Rather, each variety is adapted to blend in with their particular niche. Madagascar's chameleons come in a wide range of colours and sizes, varying from big and brilliant green, to tiny and drab. To see a good cross-section you are best off visiting a zoo or park.

Radiated tortoise

The desert tortoise is another slow-moving vertebrate that is easy to spot in the wild. I was a bit sceptical when I was told that in the southwest it is common to see tortoises clambering across the roads, but it was all too true. The prickly pear cactus that has overrun much of the desert country has also provided the tortoises with an abundant food source. There is no shortage of tortoises in Madagascar.

The country does however appear to be short on other vertebrates. Habitat destruction seems to have hit the bird population particularly hard. Madagascar is reputed to be home to many endemic bird species, but as a person used to hearing bird-song even in the middle of my busy home city, the absence of birds was acutely noticeable. As a surfer, the general absence of sea birds was even harder to understand.


As with birds, Madagascar's stock of invertebrates is said to be extensive and unique. This is really getting into specialist territory, but once again habitat destruction appears to have taken its toll. The endemic insects are probably there, but you need to know what to look for and where to find it.

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