26 interesting facts about Madagascar

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Outstanding biodiversity and a unique bare-knuckle fighting sport are just two of the most interesting facts about Madagascar.

Lemurs in Madagascar
Madagascar’s most famous animal is the lemur (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Madagascar
Capital city: Antananarivo
Population: 26,955,737
Area: 587,041 sq km
Major languages: French, Malagasy, English
Major religions: Christianity
Time zone: UTC+3 (East Africa Time)
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

Interesting facts about Madagascar

1. The name ‘Madageiscar’ was first termed by the famous 13th-century explorer Marco Polo. It was a corrupted transliteration of Mogadishu, the Somali port with which he confused the island.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

2. Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is currently ranked 10th poorest according to GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity (PPP) data.
(Source: World Bank)

3. Known as Malagasy, the people of Madagascar are believed to be descendants of Indonesians and East Africans.
(Source: PNAS Journal)

Map of Madagascar in relation to Africa and India
Geography accounts for several interesting facts about Madagascar (Shutterstock)

4. A 2018 study discovered ‘butchery marks on bones’ that suggests humans may have arrived up to 10,500 years ago – 6,000 years earlier than initially thought.
Source: PLOS ONE Journal, News Week)

5. Discounting continental landmasses such as Australia, Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo.
(Source: BBC News)

6. The UNESCO-listed Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar is home to a series of serrated, limestone pinnacles known as tsingy. The needles rise up to 100m high and were sculpted over hundreds of years from water and wind erosion.
(Source: UNESCO)

The tsingy of Bemaraha
The tsingy of Bemaraha (Shutterstock)

7. Madagascar is a former French colony. The French arrived in force during the 1880s. In 1947 they suppressed an armed rebellion killing thousands.
(Source: BBC News)

8. From 1828 to 1861 Madagascar was ruled by Queen Ranavalona I. A brutal and controversial leader, she repeatedly repelled French and European advances on Madagascar but also persecuted Christians, neighbouring kingdoms and political rivals.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

9. The flag of Madagascar was adopted in 1958. The white represents purity, the red symbolises sovereignty and the green denotes the coastal regions and expresses hope.
(Source: Britannica)

The flag of Madagascar
The flag of Madagascar (Shutterstock)

10. Despite being geographically closer to Africa, Madagascar was once attached to India in Asia. After the initial breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana approximately 160 million years ago, Madagascar was attached to the Indian subcontinent. Madagascar then separated from India around 88 million years ago and has been isolated ever since.
(Source: National Geographic)

11. As such, native animals and plants evolved in insulation. As a result, approximately 92% of Madagascar’s mammals, 89% of its plant life and 95% of its reptiles cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
(Source: WWF)

12. 5% of all the world’s known animal and plant species can be found in Madagascar. Furthermore, it’s home to the second-highest number of endangered mammals in the world.
(Source: The Guardian)

A mongoose in green grass in Madagascar
Ring-tailed mongoose in Madagascar (Shutterstock)

13. This all makes Madagascar one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Megadiverse countries are the world’s most biodiversity-rich countries.
(Source: The Telegraph, Atlas & Boots)

14. Following a vote for autonomy in 1958, Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960. Philibert Tsiranana became their first president.
(Source: BBC News)

15. One of the most iconic sights in Madagascar is Allée des Baobabs (Avenue of the Baobabs), a 2km natural avenue lined with baobab trees. The trees are known as renala – ‘mother of the forest’ – in Malagasy.
(Source: Rough Guides)

Avenue of the Baobabs
Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar (Shutterstock)

16. Madagascar’s most famous animal is the lemur. There are at least 100 species and subspecies of lemur in Madagascar.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

17. Moraingy is a traditional martial art of Madagascar. The bare-knuckle fighting sport takes place in outdoor rings between two opponents.
(Source: New York Times)

18. Madagascar is famous for its vanilla. It supplies around 80% of the world’s natural vanilla, which accounts for 25% of the country’s exports.
(Source: Financial Times, OEC)

Close up of hands holding vanilla
Preparation of vanilla in a craft workshop in Madagascar (Shutterstock)

19. Since gaining independence, Madagascar has experienced extensive political instability such as coups, violent unrest and disputed elections.
(Source: BBC News)

20. In 2009 there was another coup which led to Madagascar being suspended from the African Union. Most financial aid to Madagascar was also suspended.
(Source: Britannica)

21. Madagascar is the second-largest island nation after Indonesia. An island nation (or island country) is one whose primary territory consists of one or more islands or parts of islands.
(Source: World Atlas, NationMaster)

A beach in Madagascar
Madagascar is the second-largest island nation (Shutterstock)

22. Madagascar boasts the world’s fifth-largest coral reef. Known as The Great Reef, it is spread along 450km of the southwestern coast of Madagascar.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

23. Madagascar is regularly struck by tropical storms. The worst of which was Gafilo, a cyclone that killed more than 300 people in Madagascar in 2004. Cyclone Enawo hit in 2017 killing at least 80.
(Source: The Guardian)

24. The UNESCO-listed Royal Hill of Ambohimanga is a royal city and burial site and collection of sacred places in Madagascar dating from between the 15th and 19th centuries. It includes a fortress called Rova that was built from cement made from sand, shells and egg whites. Apparently, 16 million eggs were used to construct the outer wall alone.
(Source: Lonely Planet, UNESCO)

Ambohimanga Palace
Ambohimanga Palace (Shutterstock)

25. The central pole of Ambohimanga’s main hut is made from a single trunk of sacred rosewood which was supposedly carried from the coast by 2,000 slaves, 100 of whom died during the approach. The top of the pole is carved to show a pair of women’s breasts, reflecting the king’s polygamy.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

26. The UNESCO-listed Rainforests of the Atsinanana is comprised of six national parks spread along the eastern part of Madagascar’s mainland. The rainforests are recognised for their range of biodiversity and the threatened species they support.
(Source: UNESCO)

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Madagascar using primary sources. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.