Madagascar: The Exotic Island

Looking at a map of the southern hemisphere, one wouldn't expect such a seemingly "small" island to be so exotic and bountiful, but the island of Madagascar is just that. A 226,658 square mile (587,041 square kilometers) piece of land, with a a coastline of about 2,480 miles (3,990 kilometers), it's a beautiful and different view of its large neighbor, Africa.

The island itself is made up of ridges, rivers, valleys, and tropical forests sectioning off the different regions of the landscape, scattered trees and tall grasses to one side, narrow coastal plains, and low plataeus and plains off to another. To the north is Mt. Maromokotro, the highest peak on the island at 9,436 feet (2,876 meters). Coral beaches line the east coast, adding to the natural beauty of the already lovely landscape.

The tropical climate provides varying amounts of rainfall-from 83 inches (211 centimeters) in the northwest to 14 inches (36 centimeters) in the southwest. The drought-infested south is extremely hot and dry, and the west is hot and wet. Indian Ocean cyclones bring periodic heavy rains and destructive floods. Once covered by forests, most of the island now has a savannah-steppe vegetation with a few forests in the west and evergreen forests on the eastern edge of the central plateau. An interesting climate for such a unique place.

The animals there are also different and the likes of which not found anywhere else; not even in Africa. 50 species of lemurs inhabit the island, as well as 800 different types of butterflies. Though near the once-dubbed "Dark Continent", the species and vegitation seem to have remnants of Eastern India, proof perhaps that the island is a breakaway of the decidedly larger continent of Asia.

The peoples of the large island are as diverse as the wildlife, ranging from the Malagasy to the French, several native groups mixing with those of foreign origins. The population in itself has near doubled since 1950, 80 percent, mostly rural. Malagasy and French are the officials languages of the island, with Christians (both Roman Catholic and Protestent) making up the most of the religious groups.

Half still follow traditional ways, however. Education is free to all citizens of Madagascar ranging in age from 6 to 14. However, some tend to skip school and go straight to work. This is especially common in the rural areas. Most hospitals are concentrated in urban areas, but they are very understaffed for the numerous varieties of tropical diseases that are abundant in the area, most commonly malaria. The life expectency for natives is 51 years of age, approximately 20 years less than our own in the U.S.

As you could probably guess, Madagascar's land is a valuable asset for farming. Agriculture is a large part of the economy. 86% of all adults in Madagascar are employed in an industry pertaining to farming, including farming itself.