Greatest Places Physical Geography. Dr. Cecil Keen, July 1997


Geographic Description: Madagascar is the fourth largest island, covering an area of nearly 226,700 square miles and stretching 1,000 miles by 350 miles. Geologically, the island was formed when it broke away from the landmass of Africa approximately 50 million years ago. The east coast is lined with coral beaches and lagoons, and from here the land rises sharply to the great central plateau that covers most of the island. This is ridged and crossed by many rivers and is interrupted by mountainous massifs. The highest of these is Massif du Tsaratanana in the north and a peak of Mt. Maromokotro at 9,436 feet. There are volcanic features such as crater lakes and steep sea cliffs in the far north and south. On the western side, the mountains fall away more gradually. While the eastern rivers plunge steeply into the Indian Ocean, those flowing westwards meander through gentler landscapes, washing down rich sediments to the broad coastal plains.

The climate varies greatly from temperate in the highlands to tropical along the coasts; there are heavy seasonal rains in the north and east, but conditions are relatively dry in the central highlands and semiarid in the south. Until recently most of the island was covered in forests, ranging from tropical rain forest to cooler evergreen and deciduous woodlands. However, these forests have been devastated by slash-and-burn cultivation so that only small areas are left. The exposed soil is now suffering drastically from severe erosion.

Madagascar's isolation has allowed a unique and rich diversity of wildlife to evolve. This includes the small, spiny, insectivorous tenrec and many remarkable species of lemur. There are also crocodiles, chameleons, butterflies, and great numbers of birds. Sea fish native to the area include the spiny globefish and a famous "living fossil" called the coelacanth. The wildlife has, however, also been devastated by both deliberate killing and by destruction of habitats. Several lemur species have become extinct, and those remaining are endangered. Conservation efforts are small-scale, and though the government is attempting to limit the destruction, it may already be too late. It is estimated that there are 10,000 species of flora of which 80 percent are found nowhere else in the world. By comparison, the United Kingdom has about 1,750 species of plants. Of the 400 flowering plant families known worldwide, almost 200 are known to occur in Madagascar.

The island is 300 miles east of Mozambique across the Mozambique Channel and has a coastline of 3,000 miles. It compares in area to about 2.5 times the size of the United Kingdom and a little smaller than Texas.

Land Use: 4 percent arable land; 1 percent permanent crops; 58 percent meadows and pastures; 26 percent forest and woodland; 11 percent other (includes 1 percent irrigated).

Major Cities: Antananarivo 662,585 (capital) [Tana]

Population: 13,005,989

Ethnic Groups: Highlanders of predominantly Malayo-Indonesian origin (4.4 million); coastal peoples collectively termed Cotiers, with mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian and Arab ancestry (3.2 million); European French (19,000); Indians (11,000); and Creoles (9,000).

Languages: French and Malagasy (both official).

Religions: Indigenous (52 percent); Christian (41 percent); and Muslim (7 percent).

Chief Crops/Livestock: cash crops (coffee, vanilla, cloves, sugar, and tobacco); food crops (rice, cassava, cereals, potatoes and corn); cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep.

Natural Resources: graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, and salt.

Major Industries: agricultural processing (meat canneries, soap factories, brewery, tanneries, sugar refining), light consumer goods industries (textiles, glassware), and cement

Exports: Imports: coffee (45 percent), vanilla (15 percent), cloves (11 percent), intermediate manufactures (30 percent), capital goods (28 percent), Petroleum (15 percent), consumer goods (14 percent), and food (13 percent).

Major Trading Partners:
Exports: France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and USA.
Imports: France, Germany, United Kingdom, and other European Commonwealth.









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