28 Interesting Madagascar Facts: How Many Do You Know?

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How many of these interesting Madagascar facts do you know?

Table of Contents

Many travellers know it as a place from the Madagascar movies but don’t know much else about it. And it definitely isn’t on most travellers radar. 

But that’s a shame. It’s unlike nowhere else on earth. Keep reading to see how many interesting facts about Madagascar you know and see just why this country is so amazing. Warning: may inspire wanderlust. While it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many travellers, there are so many adventures to be had and places to discover you visit multiple times and still not discover everything: 

#1. Location of Madagascar

The Island of Madagascar is located off the Eastern Coast of Africa. Situated within the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is located 250 miles (400 km) off the East coast of mainland Africa

Interesting Facts about Madagascar
Map courtesy of Google Maps.

#2. Madagascar is often called the Eighth Continent

Madagascar split from India 88 million years ago following its initial separation from Gondwana the supercontinent (which included Africa, South America, Antarctica, and Australia) approximately 165 million years ago. That separation has resulted in fauna and flora found nowhere else on the planet.

Related Reading: Madagascar Travel: 33 Things You Need to Know Before You Go

#3. 90% of Madagascar’s Wildlife Is Endemic (Not Found Anywhere Else)

Madagascar fact: Fossa are endemic
Fossa, like much of Madagascar’s wildlife, is endemic

If you want to see lemurs in the wild, the country’s flagship species, the only place you can see them is in Madagascar. It’s also home to species that you probably haven’t heard of. Like the Fossa, a cat-like mammal that’s closely related to the mongoose. There is nothing more interesting than the fact that Madagascar has unique and fascinating animals. 

#4. The only animals in the Madagascar Movie that Actually Live in Madagascar are the Lemurs and Fossa

Zebras, lions or penguins don’t live in Madagascar –  even though they were featured in the movie.

#5. Madagascar has Giraffe Weevils, but No Giraffes Named Melman

Giraffe weevil in Madagascar
A male giraffe weevil; PC: Alicia Lamb

Giraffes also appeared in the Madagascar movies but there aren’t any 5-meter (17 feet) tall giraffes roaming around. Instead, there are charming 2.5 cm long insects called giraffe weevils that live in the Malagasy rainforests. The male
giraffe weevils use their long necks to fight over females (just like your ordinary giraffes!).

#6. In the Madagascar Movies, It Should have Been Queen Juliana, Not King Julian

ring-tailed lemur with twins
The dominant female ring-tailed lemur carrying her twins in Anja Community Reserve; PC: Alicia Lamb

The ladies lead in lemur land!


#7. Giant Lemurs Used to Live in Madagascar

madagascar facts: giant lemurs as big as gorillas used to exist
Not a giant lemur, but a modern lemur that you can see today in Madagascar.

Giant lemurs, as big as gorillas roamed the island as recently as 560 years ago. Unfortunately, they went extinct, likely due to the presence of humans. Of the 25 most endangered primates on earth, 6 of them are found in Madagascar. That’s why Now is the Time to See Lemurs in Madagascar.

#8. Madagascar is the World’s 4th Biggest Island

It measures in at a whopping 581,540 sq km (224,533 square miles) making it bigger than France.

And speaking of France,

#9. Malagasy Culture is as Diverse as the Wildlife

The people of Madagascar are as unique as the distinct biodiversity surrounding them. There are 18 recognized Malagasy ethnic groups/tribes with their varying traditions and beliefs, so the cultures change as you move around the country.

Some general commonalities overlap between most groups, such as male circumcision ceremonies, the importance of funerals and burial, and respect for ancestors, but each group still celebrates differently.

Clothing, hairstyle, song, dance, food, etc also vary greatly between groups. The Merina and the Sakalava are the two largest groups. This is one of the most interesting facts about Madagascar and its diverse people. 

#10. Madagascar used to be a French Colony

A sign in Malagasy, French and English
A zoo sign in Malagasy, French, and English; Artist: Alain Rasolo, PC: Alicia Lamb

It was under French rule from 1897 to 1958. As such, French is still one of the official languages and spoken by the educated population. The other official language is Malagasy, the local language.

#11. The French Love to Visit Madagascar

Interesting Facts about Madagascar

The French make up 60% of travellers to Madagascar. Next up are Germans, Americans, followed by travellers from the United Kingdom. Isn’t that an interesting fact about Madagascar that you probably didn’t know. 

#12. Before the French, Madagascar was Ruled by a Mad(? you decide) Queen

Young Children in MadagascarQueen Ranavalona III, was the last sovereign of the Kingdom of Madagascar. She ruled until 1897 before being overthrown by the French colonial forces. While she put up a  brave fight against the French, she was also known for her brutality towards  Christians, neighbouring kingdoms, and political rivals.

Madagascar’s population actually fell by half due to a combination of warfare, disease, slave labour and her harsh punishments. 

Queen Ranavalona III was also a prolific fan of the tangena ordeal in which poison would be taken from the nut of the tangena shrub. Those on trial would take the almost always fatal poison.  If the person died, they were guilty. If they survived they were innocent.  The Malagasy treated it like an oracle that had the final say on your innocence. This interesting fact about Madagascar was one I didn’t expect and was equally scary and fascinating. 

#13. Madagascar’s Plants are used in Cancer Treatment

Madagascar plants are used for medicinal treatments including cancer treatments.
Madagascar Periwinkle flower; PC: Alicia Lamb

There are more than 12,000 species of exceedingly diverse plants growing in Madagascar and with little access to medical care, the Malagasy people use plants for medicinal treatment. However, beyond traditional herbal remedies, species
such as the Madagascar periwinkle, are harvested to produce drugs used to treat Hodgkin’s disease, Leukemia, and other cancers.

#14. Madagascar is Ripe with Taboos called Fady

Interesting Facts about Madagascar and its diverse people and country
If a Malagasy woman wants to leave her husband, she’ll put a piece of this tree under his pillow.

As a traveller in Madagascar, you need to be aware of the most common ones so that you don’t offend locals. But they also provide a fascinating glimpse into the Malagasy culture. For example, it’s considered Fady to wear red to a funeral. But it’s OK to wear to sacrifices.

You should also never eat Angonoka tortoise. Besides being endangered, it’s also bad luck. You also don’t want to wear an empty basket on your head. It’s also fady.

#15. Madagascar has 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Madagascar facts: Madagascar has 3 UNESCO sites, including the Tsingy
The Tsingy are one of 3 UNESCO sites in Madagascar and are stunning

I only visited one of them, the Tsingy in western Madagascar. These karst limestone spires are unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere. The closest thing I’ve seen to them are the hoodoos – spire-shaped rock formations in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

I LOVED exploring them. Unfortunately, they’re not easy to reach.

#16. Wildlife in Madagascar is “Friendly”

Unlike much of mainland Africa, teeming with hungry predators and unpredictably aggressive buffalo or elephants, it is safe to walk around in Madagascar. Barely outweighing a typical house cat, the 9 kg (18 lbs) fossa is the largest mammalian predator.

There are no deadly snakes or spiders – some possess poison or venom. Even the scorpions in Madagascar aren’t lethal. Nile
crocodiles live near rivers along the coasts of Madagascar, but they have been over hunted out of fear and for their skins, making them relatively rare.

#17. Malagasy Worship their Ancestors in a Unique way

So much so that they exhume buried relatives, re-wrap them in fresh grave clothes and they dance with them around the tomb. It’s a way of staying connected with departed relatives and paying their respects.

Despite what you may think of this,  it’s considered extremely rude for travellers to make any comments about how strange it is.  So while it’s fine to respectfully ask questions, keep any negative opinions to yourself. Check out the video below:

#18. Road Trips in Madagascar

Madagascar facts: you can spend a lot of time travelling around the country due to poor road conditions
When there aren’t bridges, the Malagasy have improvised with large floating rafts with an attached engine.

When you’re in Madagascar, be prepared to spend a lot of time driving. Get your playlist ready. It’s a huge island and many of the sites that you’ll likely want to visit or spread out.

Even seemingly short distances can take longer than anticipated due to poor road conditions. You’ll likely have a driver when you go (our recommendation) or go on a tour like our Magic of Madagascar Ecotour.

Be sure you leave more time than you think you need when trying to catch a flight or need to be somewhere at a specific hour.

In addition, travel after dark isn’t advisable for safety reasons, so you may find yourself leaving early in the morning to reach your destination before it gets dark.

#19. Madagascar is home to more than two-thirds of the world’s Vanilla Fields

Fortunately, vanilla travels well and makes a nice souvenir or present for your loved ones. Your purchase also supports the local economy.

#20. The “Red Islands” geography is otherworldly, with Forests of Limestone and Underwater Caves

Madagascar as seen from the air
Flying over the western coast of Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel; PC: Alicia Lamb

Madagascar is sometimes referred to as the “Great Red Island” because of its iron and aluminium rich soils that produce brilliant red colours.

Madagascar consists of 5main geographical regions: Central Highlands, the Massif in the north, the east coast,
west coast, and the southwest. Sixteen rivers snake throughout the landscape, ranging from 100 to 350 miles in length.

However, there are few lakes – the largest lake is LacAlaotra which is surrounded by ecologically critical marshlands that are facing severe pressures due to human activity.

#21. It was a Paradise for Pirates

Lemurs in Madagascar
Madagascar’s many isolated coves and the absence for hundreds of years of those pesky European powers made it a safe haven for pirates. It’s rumoured that Captain James Misson,  founded the anarchist colony Libertatia there in the late 17th century.

 Although whether Libertatia actually existed is still disputed. What’s not disputed is that you’d often find hundreds of pirates there a time.

#22 Malagasy people didn’t originally Migrate from Africa

Madagascar is a melting pot in terms of heritage and influences. The Malagasy are descended from both Asians and Africans, and various foreign cultures are prevalent across the island. The main foreign countries represented in Madagascar are France, India, Pakistan, China, and the nearby Comoros Islands.

Despite being 12 times closer to Eastern Africa than Borneo, the first settlers of Madagascar were actually of Malayo-Indonesian descent – migrating from Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java.

Eventually, people began emigrating from Eastern Africa and are now well dispersed throughout the country, but Malagasy typically don’t consider themselves to be African.

#23. Over half the World’s Chameleons can be found in Madagascar

Interesting Facts about Madagascar

It’s not just lemurs, that are unique to Madagascar. Of the world’s ~ 150 species of chameleons, more than half of them can be found in Madagascar.

And an impressive 59 are endemic to  Madagascar. Many are endangered and one factor is the pet trade.  So please do not buy a chameleon as a pet. See them in the wild where they belong.

#24 Forests of Rain and Drought and Spines… Oh My!

ecosystem map of Madagascar
Educational ecosystems map of Madagascar (in Malagasy); Artist: Alain Rasolo

There are 7 recognized terrestrial eco-region in Madagascar: tropical lowland rainforests, tropical sub-humid forests, dry deciduous forests, montane shrubland, spiny desert thickets, succulent woodlands, and mangrove forests.

#25 Madagascar’s Flag is Red, White, and Green

Madagascar's flag is white, red and green.
Flag of Madagascar

The Malagasy flag is equal parts red, green, and white. Some historians claim red represents sovereignty, green represents hope, and white represents purity.

Other interpretations suggest that the red and white of the flag symbolize the history and traditional classism, and green symbolizes the ‘commoners’ yearning for freedom.

Red and white were the original flag colours when the Merina Kingdom ruled the country before the French colonization. Additionally, red and white are the colours of the Indonesian flag, illustrating their ethnic origins (Merina most resemble Indonesians).

The green is assumed to signify the Hova people, considered the largest class of commoners in Madagascar and fierce fighters during the independence movement. This is one of the most interesting facts about the history and culture of Madagascar.

#26 The Malagasy Population is Steadily Increasing

The current population of Madagascar is now over 26.5 million. Approximately 1.5 million people living in the capital of Antananarivo (“Tana” for short) alone.  40% of the population is 15 years or less.

The steadily increasing population is arguably Madagascar’s biggest challenge. This is because their natural resources are already running out as their intrinsically and extrinsically valuable forests are rapidly disappearing.

Just a handful of issues contributing to the increasing population include poor access to birth control, the belief that large families and many children are a form of “Social Security,” and virtually no sex education.

Sadly, even general education is severely limited. Only 36% of the population finishes primary school. And a very small percentage of those continuing beyond primary school are girls.

#27. Madagascar is one of only 17 Countries Considered to be Megadiverse 

Madagascar is incredibly diverse

Conservation International has designated just 17 countries as being megadiverse. That is a biodiversity hotspot. One of these is Madagascar. Combined, the Mega diversity countries account for at least two-thirds of all non-fish vertebrate species. And three-quarters of all higher plant species. Source: http://www.biodiversitya-z.org/content/megadiverse-countries.

That’s why Madagascar is a nature lover’s dream. You’ll see species you won’t see anywhere else. This is one of the most interesting facts about Madagascar. 

#28 Madagascar is also one of the 12 Poorest Countries in the World but Ecotourism can be part of the Solution 

The Malagasy People

Madagascar’s government has promoted tourism as an economic development strategy. With over 70% of the country living in poverty, tourism is seen as a way to reduce poverty and provide economic growth.

Tourism is currently the second largest foreign exchange earner in the country, and the government hopes to increase this share. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Madagascar.

Madagascar’s poverty is one of the most heartbreaking facts. But there is something that can be done to change this, like ecotourism. 

In addition to helping the Malagasy out of poverty, ecotourism also plays an important role in species conservation. See Why Now is the Time to See Lemurs in Madagascar for a further explanation of this.

Facts about Madagascar

I’m a firm believer in the power of ecotourism. It was a driving factor for creating my Magic of Madagascar: Lemurs and Other Wildlife Tour. We hire a local guide and a local driver. Plus, we’ll have local guides in the national parks and on other excursions. This helps create jobs. 

The diverse animals and reptiles of Madagascar

Besides, the feel-good factor, participants will meet one of the top lemur researchers in the world. They will get the rare opportunity to volunteer at a lemur sanctuary. And do an activity with local Malagasy children teaching them about lemurs.  I hope that you’ll join us. Click on the button below to find out more.

How many of these interesting facts about Madagascar did you know?


Madagascar facts

Note: This article was originally published in Feb 2018 but was republished with additional facts added by Alicia Lamb.