One of the oldest and largest of the world’s islands, most people have their first encounter with the island of Madagascar through the lens of its endemic flora and fauna, the older generation accompanied there by the mellifluous tones of David Attenborough, the younger by DreamWorks’ eponymous animated production. However, very little beyond the raw imaginings of a child could prepare you for this weird and wonderful country, separated from the rest of the world over 80 million years ago. Home to the treetop antics of the iconic Indris, and dotted with strange, almost-alien baobab trees, Madagascar is to the uninspired mind what cool water is to the parched throat.
It is perhaps no surprise then that Madagascar has several areas listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and is emerging as a hotspot for eco-tourism. Trekking holidays are becoming increasingly popular, with many wishing to experience the wild delights this country has to offer first-hand. Whether volunteering for conservation research, diving off the coasts of Andavadoaka, or exploring the rainforests of Atsinanana, the opportunities are endless.
Such eco-tourism is essential to the survival of this petit paradis, where illegal logging and an expanding farming industry are wreaking havoc upon the soil, turning this once fecund land to dust. At present, agriculture serves as the main source of employment for 80% of the population, but these processes are unsustainable and pose a serious threat to this precious ecosystem and indeed to the Malagasy people.
In a country where over 50% of the population live below the poverty line, eco-tourism could be the tipping-point to alleviate poverty, provide education, and divert people away away from the destructive practice of deforestation towards a more sustainable means of employment.