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The Animals of Madagascar: A Guide to Some of the World’s Rarest Animals

by Elaine Clara Mah

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Movie buffs will remember the hilarious comedy animation Madagascar that followed the story of four animals from the Central Park Zoo who unexpectedly ended up on the island of Madagascar. There, Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippopotamus attempted to navigate life on the island and find friendship with some of its inhabitants.

While much is known about animals like lions, zebras, giraffes and hippopotamuses, in part thanks to their popularity as some of the most sought after animals to spot on safaris, smaller animals such as those found on Madagascar have gained lesser exposure and, as a result, little to nothing is known about them.

Madagascar, with its portrayal of the enthusiastic and comedic King Julien XIII, has brought plenty of attention to the lemurs of Madagascar. But did you know that there are over 50 different species of lemurs on the island? In fact, the island of Madagascar is home to a wide variety of fascinating animals, with some on the unfortunate path of becoming extinct if we don’t do something soon.

Due to the fact that the island had been isolated for over 70 million years, the majority of Madagascar’s plant and animal species are endemic to the area and found nowhere else in the world. To give you an idea of the vibrant ecosystem that is Madagascar, here are some unique animal species you can find on the island!


Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemur

Very few people are aware that King Julien on Madagascar belonged to the ring-tailed lemur species that is found mostly in Madagascar and a few neighboring small islands. These stunning creatures are hard to miss, with their  long black and white striped tail. What distinguishes the ring-tailed lemur from other lemur species is that it spends most of its time on the ground, while other lemur species are fond of moving about on trees. The lemurs live in groups of between 6 to 30 animals where. Unlike King Julien in Madagascar, a dominant female lemur emerges at the very top of the group’s hierarchy.

While ring-tailed lemurs are among the most common lemurs in captivity, with over 2,500 individuals living in zoos, it is estimated that only over 2,000 individuals still survive in the wild in Madagascar.


Goodman’s Mouse Lemur

Goodman’s Mouse Lemur

Another species of lemur in Madagascar is the Goodman’s mouse lemur. The Goodman’s mouse lemur featured in the Madagascar film as Mort, King Julien’s most local servant. In real life, very little is known about the Goodman’s mouse as the species was only discovered in 2005. Goodman’s mouse lemur has been found in Mantadia National Park and Analamazaotra Special Reserve and is not known to be found anywhere else in Madagascar.

This tiny primate has short, dense fur with small ears and long tail used to store fat. Goodman’s mouse lemurs are believed to live up to 5 years in the wild and feeds on fruits and small insects.



wild aye aye

Image credit:nomis-simon

King Julien’s trusted advisor named Maurice is an aye-aye, a primate species endemic to the island of Madagascar. Aye-ayes are usually dark brown or black in color and feature big eyes, slender fingers and extremely sensitive ears. Aye-ayes live on trees and depend on their pointed claws to dangle from branches. These nocturnal creatures feed on insects and fruits. They use echolocation to find prey – tapping on trees to listen for wood-boring insect larvae that move under the bark.

Wild aye-ayes are solitary animals, spending most of their lives alone except during courtship and when a baby aye-aye is still dependent on its mother. Like the ring-tailed lemur, the female aye-aye bears dominance of its male counterparts, allowing them first access over food.

Due to its largely bizarre appearance, with extremely large ears and a long skeletal-like middle finger, Aye-ayes are considered as symbol of bad luck by a number of native tribes in Madagascar, which has led to them being killed on sight. Today, aye-ayes are a protected species by law, but their decline is still at a worrying rate due to massive habitat loss.




The largest carnivore and top predator within the forests of Madagascar is none other than the fossa. At first glance, the fossa looks like a cross between a mongoose and a cat, which has made its classification controversial. While its physical characteristics resemble that of cats, its other traits bear more similarity to civet species.

The fossa is an elusive and solitary creature that spends time on trees and ground. Fossas hunt both during the day and night, with lemurs being its prey of choice.

Like cats, the fossas are agile climbers, frequently using their retractable claws and flexible ankle joints to maneuver up trees and branches. The fossa’s long tail, which is as long as its body, helps the animal balance and move along tree branches. Curious travelers can expect to see fossas at the Kirindy Mitea National Park.


Madagascar Pochard

Madagascar Pochard

Photo credit: Frank Vassen via Flickr

The Madagascar pochard is considered the rarest duck in the world, with a total population of less than 100. The ducks are so rare that only an estimated 25 individual birds now remain in the wild and can only be found in one wetland north-east of Madagascar near Bemanevika.

Madagascar pochard was thought to be extinct until it was discovered in 2006. They are medium sized ducks, known to exhibit attractive reddish-brown flank, white belly and greyish beak. The decline of the pochards has largely been due to the environmental changes of Lake Alaotra, where it previously inhabited. These changes include a conversion of land to agriculture, pollution and deforestation. The introduction of new species to the area has caused competition, decreasing food supply for the ducks. Conservation projects are underway to help save these rare ducks from extinction.

Fancy a stroll into nature when the sun sets? Go on a nocturnal animal safari in Madagascar!

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