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Baobab Tree in Madagascar Photo
There are more species of Baobab trees in Madagascar than anywhere else.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Lemurs in Madagascar Photo
Ring tailed lemurs are part of the unique biodiversity in Madagascar’s spiny forest.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Malagasy Photo
WCS works with local people to protect their environment.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
Andavadoaka, Madagascar Slideshow
In the Andavadoaka region of Madagascar’s southwest coast, the Vezo people have subsisted on the bounty of the Toliar Barrier Reef for centuries. But the lobsters, finfish, octopus, and coastal dolphins they depend on are growing scarce. WCS conservationists are working to establish marine fishery reserves to ensure this fragile seascape and the traditional livelihoods it supports remain intact.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Pirogue fishing boat Photo
In the waters just south of the Mozambique Channel that borders much of Madagascar’s west coast, traditional Vezo fishermen ply their trade from simple hand-carved wooden canoes, called "pirogues."
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Fishing in Mozambique Channel Photo
A fisherman swims a nets around a school of fish. Small-mesh fishing nets like this one can result in high levels of bycatch. WCS is working to promote more sustainable fishing gear.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Toliar Barrier Reef Fish and Coral Photo
Most of the fishing activity takes place within the nearest reaches of one of the world’s largest barrier reef systems, the Toliar Barrier Reef, since the pirogues cannot travel far. These reefs are among the most biodiverse in the Western Indian Ocean.
©Caleb McClennen/WCS
Vezo fishing boy with catch Photo
A boy watches over the village catch as it dries in the sun. Overfishing in the region has devastated fish populations, with serious consequences for the reef systems and for the Vezo tribe.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Starfish in Toliar Barrier Reef Photo
In addition to overfishing and destructive fishing practices, land pollution and the harmful effects of climate change can also have serious consequences for fragile coral reef ecosystems.
©Caleb McClennen/WCS
Ben Mahafalay Madagascar Marine Photo
WCS conservationist Bemahafaly Randriamanantsoa (center) monitors fishing activity to ensure catches meet size requirements. WCS has been helping the reef’s depleted fish stocks recover by establishing marine reserves that are subject to temporary closures.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Shark finning Photo
In addition to fishing, the Vezo people also hunt coastal dolphins and sharks in local waters. A growing global market for shark fins is depleting shark populations around the world.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Madagascar Photo
Though the Vezo people have had very limited economic opportunities, tourists are beginning to visit new resorts in the area. WCS is working to ensure the tourism industry grows sustainably and with respect for this spectacular seascape.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS

With its extraordinary, yet highly threatened biodiversity, the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar is a global conservation priority. The country encompasses habitats ranging from tropical rainforests to deciduous dry forests, spiny deserts, reefs, islands, sea grass beds, mangrove forests, and estuaries. These ecosystems places a stunning array of wildlife species, many of which are found nowhere else. Unfortunately, poverty and unsustainable resource use are leading to large-scale forest clearing, which in turn leads to the depletion of Madagascar’s biodiversity capital; only a small fraction of the original forest remains, and many charismatic species have become extinct, including the magnificent elephant bird. Until recently, the Malagasy rural population, one of the poorest in the world, had limited land tenure rights, little access to information and minimal support for alternative livelihoods, which has had devastating consequences for both the country’s natural environment and its standard of living.

Once part of the larger Gondwanalad, the island of Madagascar separated from mainland Africa between 100 and 200 million years ago, creating a time capsule of life in the process. Today the island provides sanctuary for plants and animals that have long since disappeared from other parts of the world and continued to evolve uniquely. Four out of five species of plants and animals found there are unique, or endemic, to Madagascar. Among the best-known species are the lemurs, a primitive group of primates.

Fast Facts

  • Lemurs, with fox-like faces and opposable thumbs, evolved some 50 to 60 million years ago and were once widespread around the globe. Small numbers of lemurs arrived on the island of Madagascar soon after that, possibly by rafting across the ocean on floating vegetation. Lemurs prospered and evolved to present-day species on Madagascar and its satellite islands. Elsewhere in the world, lemurs were supplanted by the later evolution of more advanced primates – the monkeys.
  • There are 93 lemur species in Madagascar currently identified, including the red-ruffed lemur, black-and-white ruffed lemur, indri (the largest), mouse lemurs (the smallest), and silky sifaka (known for its rattling calls to warn of aerial predators).
  • Madagascar provides habitat for 283 bird species (more than 100 are endemic), 12,000 vascular plant species (of which more than 90 percent are endemic), more than 300 amphibian species (about 99 percent of which are endemic), 346 reptiles species (of which 90 percent are endemic), and 30 bat species (18 are endemic).
  • Fishes found in the Malagasy region’s crater lakes are considered “living fossils” because they belong to the most primitive of catfish, herrings, cichlids, killies, silversides, and their allied species.
  • More than half of Madagascar’s floral biodiversity can be found in the Greater Makira/Masoala/Antongil Bay (MaMaBay) landscape, in the northeastern region of the country. Masoala National Park harbors the critically endangered Madagascar serpent eagle, which was until fairly recently believed to be extinct. The forests of MaMabay also abound with chameleons and geckos, as well as several species of butterflies and fish that have only recently been discovered.


The majority of Madagascar’s terrestrial biodiversity is found in its low altitude forests, the same forests that support the livelihoods for a large percentage of the country's population. Forests provide wood, non-timber forest products, and water for the rice-growing rural population, yet only around 15 percent of the land surface remains forested, largely as a result of expanding slash-and-burn agriculture, grazing, and uncontrolled wildfires. Illicit logging of precious hardwoods, mining, and the hunting of lemurs, bats, birds, and the island's main predator the fossa, also pose serious threats to the ecological integrity of this important landscape. Collection of species for the illegal pet trade has also had a major impact on populations, of tortoises and chameleons in particular. The survival of Madagascar’s numerous endemic freshwater fishes is compromised by environmental degradation, overexploitation, and invasive exotic species.

WCS Responds

WCS works throughout Madagascar to ensure the conservation of the island's unique floral and faunal diversity. A key focus of WCS’s work is the MaMaBay landscape that includes more than 10 percent of the country’s remaining rainforests, as well as the largest calving and breeding ground for humpback whales in the Indian Ocean. WCS helps train park managers and educate local communities about protecting forests and marine ecosystems. In the wildlife-rich Makira forest, WCS has pioneered a program to sell the forest’s carbon credits, on behalf of the government of Madagascar, to help raise funds to protect the forest, support the economic wellbeing of local communities, and help fight global climate change. In the Spiny Desert of southern Madagascar, WCS is working in key areas to conserve the radiated tortoise and its habitat. WCS has also participated in a program launched in 1993 to collect live specimens of five threatened endemic fish, with the goal of establishing secure managed populations as insurance against their global extinction.

WCS Projects

Makira REDD+ Project

In collaboration with the government of Madagascar, WCS’s Makira REDD+ Project will help finance the long-term conservation of one of Madagascar’s most pristine remaining rainforests, home to rare and threatened biodiversity. It will also help enhance the economic wellbeing of neighboring communities.

The Bronx Zoo: Madagascar!

At Madagascar!, zoogoers see the island nation through the eyes of a conservationist. The Bronx Zoo strives to inspire a connection to Madagascar’s imperiled wild creatures while there is still time to save them.

From the Newsroom

Carbon Credits on Sale in Madagascar to Preserve EcosystemSeptember 17, 2013

WCS is proud to partner with the government of Madagascar on an innovative project to help preserve Makira Natural Park.

Madagascar Gets 'Roadmap' To Conserving Marine LifeFebruary 27, 2012

A study by WCS and partners presents a novel approach for establishing new large-scale protected areas in Madagascar’s waters.

More than 5,700 Got Bugged on Valentine's DayFebruary 15, 2011

To be precise, 5,707 romantics named a Madagascar hissing cockroach on behalf of their loved ones for Valentine's Day, raising a collective $57,070 to save wildlife and wild places around the world.

Tortoises Approach Final Finish LineApril 6, 2010

Rampant poaching and a growing pet trade direct Madagascar's beautiful radiated tortoises toward extinction.

New Hope for ForestsMay 21, 2009

WCS applauds the inclusion of forestry provisions in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which paves the way to comprehensive climate change policy.


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