We can’t have a month dedicated to Madagascar without mentioning the animal that, in my opinion, encapsulates all that is weird, wacky and wonderful about Madagascan wildlife: the aye-aye. The largest nocturnal primate in the world, the aye-aye is by far the most specialised, unusual, and evolutionary distinct offshoot of the lemur family tree. Its jumble of quirky physical features baffled taxonomists for years, and even today it is viewed by many people as an incarnation of an evil spirit.
One of Madagascar’s most peculiar habitats can be found on the southwestern edge of the island. Strange spiny forests cover an area slightly larger than Wales – and it can only be described as a botanical wonderland. As the name suggests, spines are everywhere in this environment. There are huge, thorn-covered trees and strange, almost otherworldly-looking plants called Didierea, which are several metres tall and wave spiky arms towards the sky. This place looks like what a filmmaker might imagine an alien landscape to look like.
There are more than 110 different species of lemur alive on Madagascar today and they encompass a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and behaviours. At one extreme is the tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. At a mere 92 mm in length and weighing just 31 grams, it is not only the smallest lemur in the world (it can sit, quite comfortably, in an egg cup) but it’s also the smallest primate.