Official name: Republic of Madagascar
Area: 587,040 square kilometers (226,656 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Maromokotro (2,876 meters/9,436 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern
Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,570 kilometers (976 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 569 kilometers (354 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 4,828 kilometers (3,000 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Madagascar is an island nation off the coast of Mozambique in southern Africa. It is the world's fourth-largest island, and one of its southernmost countries—the most southerly part of the island lies below the Tropic of Capricorn. With an area of 587,040 square kilometers (226,656 square miles), it is almost twice the size of the state of Arizona.
Madagascar is famous for its unique wild-life and vegetation, which developed and diversified in isolation from the fauna and flora of mainland Africa. Many of these plant and animal species are threatened by the continuing loss of Madagascar's rainforest habitat through destruction and erosion.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Madagascar has no territories or dependencies.
Madagascar's climate is strongly influenced by southeasterly trade winds, and its temperatures are also moderated by altitude. The coastal areas are hottest, and the highest elevations of the plateau regions are the coolest. Temperatures range from 10°C (50°F) to 26°C (78°F) in July (the coolest month) and from 16°C (61°F) to 29°C (84°F) in December (the hottest month). The hot season between November and April is also the rainy season, while drier weather prevails throughout the rest of the year. Rainfall is heaviest on the eastern, or windward, side of the island, with an annual average of almost 380 centimeters (150 inches) occurring at Antongila Bay. Monsoons bring precipitation to the northwestern coast, which averages 211 centimeters (83 inches) of rainfall annually, compared with the arid southwest, where the average drops to a mere 36 centimeters (14 inches). Annual precipitation on the plateau falls between these extremes, averaging about 135 centimeters (53 inches).
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The island can be broadly divided into three major regions: 1) a narrow coastal plain to the east; 2) a large central plateau that extends the entire length of the country; and 3) a hillier and less clearly defined coastal area to the west.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Madagascar is located in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean, opposite Mozambique.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Madagascar is separated from the African continent by the Mozambique Channel, which is 400 kilometers (250 miles) wide. Madagascar's deepest coastal indentation is Antongila Bay, at the northeastern part of the island.
Islands and Archipelagos
Small volcanic islands, including Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Be, border the northwestern coast. The only such island to the east is Nosy Boraha, south of Antongila Bay.
Sandy beaches cover most of the narrow eastern coastal plain. South of Antongila Bay, the shoreline is almost perfectly straight and it becomes relatively smooth once again to the north, terminating in a sharp point beyond the smaller Antsiranana Bay. The western coast is more irregular and indented. The northwest section is fringed with coral reefs, bordered by small islands, and broken up by a number of estuaries and bays, including Bombetoka and Ampasindava Bays. Farther south, the coastline, although curved, is smoother, with mangrove trees and small dunes at its edges.
6 INLAND LAKES
Madagascar has a number of volcanic lakes, of which only a few are of significant size. The largest is Lake Alaotra in the northeast, on the Ankaratra Plateau. There is a large saltwater lake, Lake Tsimanampetsotsa, at the southwestern end of the island, near Toliara.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The short rivers on the eastern part of the island rush down the steep slopes of the escarpment that borders the coastal plain and either drain into the coastal lagoons or form rapids and waterfalls that cascade into the ocean. These rivers include the Mananara, Faraony, Ivondro, and Maningory. On the western part of the island, the rivers flow sluggishly westward across a broad coastal zone. The major western rivers include the Mangoky, Tsiribihina, Betsiboka, Onilahy, and Manambajo. The mouths of these rivers—which are longer and larger than those of the rivers in the east—are frequently blocked by sandbars.
Arid conditions produce a desert environment in the southernmost part of the island, which is characterized by spiny desert vegetation resembling that found at the same latitude on the African continent.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The coastal plain in the eastern part of the country is about 48 kilometers (30 miles) wide and is composed of alluvial soil. The sloping coastal region to the west ranges in width from 97 to 201 kilometers (60 to 125 miles).
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Some of Madagascar's highest mountains are of volcanic origin, including those of the Tsaratanana and Ankaratra Massifs. In the north, the Tsaratanana Massif, which separates the northernmost region from the rest of the country, includes the country's highest point, Mount Maromokotro (2,876 meters/9,436 feet). The Ankaratra Massif, which occupies the center of the island, forms a watershed between three river basins; its highest point is Mount Tsiafajavona (2,642 meters/8,668 feet). To the south, the granite expanse of the Andringitra Massif rises to 2,658 meters (8,720 feet) at its highest point. The low Ambohitra Mountains at the northernmost part of the island contain a number of volcanic craters.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are extensive caves underneath the expanses of jagged, needle-like limestone pinnacles, called tsingy , found in parts of the Ankaratra Plateau.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The central plateau has average elevations of 800 to 1,400 meters (2,500 to 4,500 feet), but it rises to heights of over 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) in several places. Wide areas of the plateau are covered by rounded hills of nearly uniform height, but there is still topographical diversity in these highlands, which include terraced valleys and rolling pastureland. Elevation is gradually steeper in the east, with the Ankaratra Plateau bordered by the sheer Cliff of Angavo (the Great Cliff). The descent is more gradual in the south and west.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Running parallel to the eastern coast for some 644 kilometers (400 miles) is a narrow, artificial waterway called the Pangalanes Canal that links a series of lagoons.
DID YOU KNOW?
The lemur, Madagascar's most distinctive wildlife species, descended from primates thought to have reached the island by floating on logs millions of years ago. Lemurs on Madagascar evolved independently of monkeys and other primate species.
14 FURTHER READING
Eveleigh, Mark. Maverick in Madagascar. London: Lonely Planet, 2001.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. The Past in the Present: History, Ecology, and Cultural Variation in Highland Madagascar . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980.
Lanting, Frans. Madagascar: A World Out of Time . Photographs and text by Frans Lanting. Essays by Alison Jolly and John Mack. New York: Aperture, 1990.
The Living Edens. http://www.pbs.org/edens/madagascar/ (accessed April 12, 2003).
Lonely Planet World Guide: Destination Madagascar. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/madagascar/ (accessed April 24, 2003).