25 Curious Facts About Madagascar You Might Not Know

Posted by , Updated on November 23, 2022

While so many people know the 2005 animated comedy film “Madagascar” and its sequels, few are familiar with the actual country the films take place at: Madagascar. Located some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of mainland Africa, Madagascar is a somewhat isolated and mysterious country spared by mass tourism so far. Yet, this exotic African country is one of the most vibrant and intriguing places on Earth. Consequently, it has been the inspiration for a number of great documentaries and films. If by chance you have seen one of them and have fallen in love with this amazing island country, this post is right for you. Even if you haven’t but find yourself curious as to what all the rave is all about, then you owe it to yourself to take a look at these 25 Curious Facts About Madagascar You Might Not Know.

Did you know, for example, that Madagascar was once a part of Asia? Do you know what the most popular sport in Madagascar is or what supernatural beings local people still believe in? Also, we are sure you have never heard of Libertalia, a mythical anarchist colony that was allegedly established on Madagascar by European pirates in the 17th century. To find out even more about this extraordinary country, check out these 25 Curious Facts About Madagascar You Might Not Know.


Both politically and geographically Madagascar now belongs to Africa but originally, it was a part of modern Asia. Around 88 million years ago, the island split from the Indian peninsula, following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana.

Madagascar Source: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

As the island´s native plants and animals have evolved in relative isolation, Madagascar has become a true biodiversity hotspot with over 90% of its wildlife being endemic.

chameleonSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: pixabay.com

Occupying a total area of 588,000 square kilometers (227,000 square miles), Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo.

Madagascar Source and image: en.wikipedia.org

These days, Madagascar is home to over 22 million mostly rural people out of which approximately 69 percent live below the national poverty line threshold of one dollar per day.

Madagascar Source and image: en.wikipedia.org

From 1897 to 1960, Madagascar was a part of the French colonial empire and even today, French is one two official languages in the country. Most people in Madagascar speak Malagasy, the other language, as their first language though.

malagasySource and image: en.wikipedia.org

Also known by its French colonial name “Tana”, Antananarivo is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. Full of modern buildings, factories and commercial properties, this 1.6 million metropolis is the political, economic, educational and cultural heart of the country.

AntananarivoSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

A true botanical paradise, Madagascar is home to almost 15,000 plant species including 170 palm species (three times as many as on all of mainland Africa) and 860 orchid species.

orchid Source and image: en.wikipedia.org

However, it is the baobab that has become the most iconic plant of Madagascar. There are just nine species of this bizarrely beautiful tree in the world, out of which six can be found only in Madagascar.

baobabSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Madagascar used to be a popular resting place for European pirates and was rumored to be the site of the independent pirate nation of Libertalia. According to the story, pirates renounced their national identities and called themselves Liberi, making their own system of government and law. Allegedly, they waged war against states and lawmakers, releasing prisoners and freeing slaves.

pirate shipSource: escapehere.com, image: pixabay.com

Madagascar has preserved many of their of traditional pastimes such as Moraingy, a type of hand-to-hand combat popular in coastal regions, Savika, wrestling of zebu cattle, or Fanorona, a strategy board game widespread throughout the Highland regions.

MoraingySource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, the president of Madagascar (serving since January 2014), has a longer family name than any other head of state in the world.

president of MadagascarSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Almost 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar. Other key agricultural resources include coffee, lychees and shrimps.

vanillaSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Madagascar is home to over 100 species and subspecies of lemur, including the legendary creature known as the aye-aye, a large nocturnal primate famous for his bizarre appearance and unusual method of finding food known as percussive foraging.

aye-ayeSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: flickr.com

Despite being one of the world´s most important biodiversity hotspots, Madagascar has been suffering from deforestation. It is estimated that - due to logging, poaching and pollution - more than 90% of the original forest has been lost since the arrival of humans to the island.

deforestationSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Rugby is by far the most popular sport in Madagascar. The country is currently ranked 41st worldwide by World Rugby and it boasts over 22,540 registered players and more than 410 rugby clubs.

RugbySource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Although the predominant religion in Madagascar is Christianity (introduced by missionaries), most of them are still animists, believing in the magic powers of their ancestors. Even modern Malagasies regard the deceased relatives as part of the family. Many of them bury the dead in coffins placed high up in caves and on the cliffs (to bring them closer to ancestors in heaven).

reburialSource: wildjunket.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

Although Madagascar does not rank among top African tourist destinations such as Seychelles or Mauritius, it boasts a number of breathtakingly beautiful beaches.

MadagascarSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Madagascar has been very successful in petanque, a French sport game in which heavy metal balls are thrown as close as possible to a small wooden ball. In 1999, a Malagasy even became a petanque world champion.

petanqueSource: edreams.com, image: pixabay.com

Many Malagasies believe in witches and mermaids. To keep safe from their evil force, you are advised to carry chickpeas in your pockets and throw them at the witch.

witchesSource: oliviaprentzel.com, image: en.wikipedia.org

Madagascar is a surprisingly diverse country. Its landscape greatly varies from rain forests and mountains (the highest peak is 2,876 m or 9,436 ft) to deserts and rice paddies.

MadagascarSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Tropical cyclones annually cause damage to Madagascar´s infrastructure and local economies as well as loss of life. In 2004, for example, Cyclone Gafilo killed 172 people, left over 214,000 homeless and caused more than US$250 million in damages.

Tropical cycloneSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

Archaeologists have estimated that the earliest tribes to settle Madagascar arrived in successive waves between 350 BC and 550 AD, while others are cautious about dates earlier than 250 AD. In either case, these dates make Madagascar one of the last major landmasses on Earth to be settled by humans.

MadagascarSource: en.wikipedia.org, image: commons.wikimedia.org

Madagascar was once home to the elephant bird – one of the largest birds to have ever roamed Earth. Estimated to weigh in up to 500 kg (1,100 lb), these birds became extinct in the 17th or 18th century for unclear reasons, although human activity is the suspected cause.

elephant birdSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

Numerous reptiles are native to Madagascar including 80 snake species, but none of them are venomous.

snakeSource: wildmadagascar.org, image: en.wikipedia.org

Despite the ever popular children’s Pixar movie “Madagascar”, there are actually no lions, giraffes, hippos, penguins or zebras living on this island.

MadagascarSource and image: en.wikipedia.org

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