22 intriguing 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
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 12th poorest according to 2018 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)


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)

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

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. It is also 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)

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

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

11. 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)

The flag of Madagascar
The flag of Madagascar (Shutterstock)

12. 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)

13. 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)


14. 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)

15. 5% of all the world’s known animal and plant species can be found on Madagascar. Furthermore, it’s home to the second-highest number of endangered mammals in the world.
(Source: The Guardian)

16. 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)

17. 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)

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


19. 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)

20. 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)

21. 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)

22. 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)