Over the last two millennia, Madagascar's biologically bountiful forests have been reduced by nearly 90 percent, most recently as a result of rampant slash and burn agriculture, logging and other commercial practices. This massive deforestation has pushed many of the island continent's endemic wildlife, including primates, reptiles and birds, to the brink of extinction.
The destruction of Madagascar’s forests is a major reason why the island’s famous lemurs, found nowhere else, are among the most imperiled primates on Earth. Several of these primitive and overwhelmingly arboreal primates are classified as endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species, including the largest of all lemurs, the rainforest-dwelling indri, and the planet’s smallest primate, the mouse lemur, found in the highly fragmented dry forests of western Madagascar. Also at risk due to deforestation is the red-ruffed lemur, whose range is restricted to the tall, primary rainforests of the Masoalo Peninsula. Moreover, the greater bamboo lemur, named for its food of choice, is critically endangered, largely because its rainforest range has been reduced to no more than 4 percent of its original size.
Terrestrial and arboreal, Madagascar's major predator, the fossa, requires intact forest to survive, which has made it particularly vulnerable to deforestation. This member of the mongoose family is found in both humid and dry forests. It preys on lemurs, as well as the Malagasy giant jumping rat, a fellow endangered species. The island's largest rodent, the Malagasy giant jumping rat clings to the dry forests of western Madagascar, where it feeds on fallen fruit.
Turtles and Tortoises
Madagascar’s rare tortoises, which are collected for food consumption and the illegal pet trade, have also been undermined by deforestation. The Madagascar flat-tailed tortoise, which has a penchant for hanging around tombs in the island's closed-canopy dry forests, is critically endangered as a result of habitat loss. Southwestern Madagascar harbors another critically endangered species, the radiated tortoise, which has declined as the spiny forests it calls home have been cleared.
The Madagascar serpent eagle seldom leaves the pristine rainforests where, contrary to what its name suggests, it preys more on chameleons and geckos than on snakes. As a result of deforestation, this raptor, who rarely flies above the canopy, is increasingly rare within its habitat and is considered an endangered species. Also because of habitat loss, the Madagascar red owl, a relatively small species that resides in forest edges in northern and eastern Madagascar, is listed as vulnerable -- just a category below endangered.
- Wildlife Conservation Society: Madagascar
- World Wildlife Fund: Places - Madagascar
- World Wildlife Fund: Madagascar Forests and Shrublands
- Primates in Peril: The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Primates - Lemurs
- Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust: Madagascan Flat-Tailed Tortoise
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Red-ruffed lemur
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Greater Bamboo Lemur
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Radiated Tortoise
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Madagascan Red Owl
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Malagasy Giant Rat
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Madagascar Serpent Eagle
- National Geographic: Fossa
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Fossa
- The Peregrine Fund: Global Raptor Information Network - Madagascar Serpent Eagle
- Anup Shah/Digital Vision/Getty Images