Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean Region | WWF

Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean Region


The 4th largest island in the world is home to 5% of all plant and animal species.

What & Where?

Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world, after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. It is located in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Africa, opposite Mozambique. It is roughly the size of Texas or France and is home to about 5% of the world’s plant and animal species, of which 80% are endemic to Madagascar.


Madagascar's long isolation from the neighboring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. Some ecologists refer to Madagascar as the 8th continent. The wildlife of Madagascar includes aye-aye, various species of lemur, flying fox, fossa, fanaloka, mongoose, tenrec, snakes, crocodiles, frogs etc.

Despite Madagascar’s rich biodiversity, it is one of the world’s poorest nations. Major threats to its environment include deforestation and habitat destruction, agricultural fires and over exploitation of natural resources.
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	© WWF / Anjara Andriamanalina
Click to enlarge image.
© WWF / Anjara Andriamanalina

...and the region!

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And some of our priority ecoregions:

	© WWF
Sunset from uninhabited Cosmeledo. An island just north of Madagascar. Part of the Seychelles

Global importance of Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean


The level of terrestrial endemism found in the region is unparalleled, particularly at the higher taxonomic levels of families and genera. Thus, among higher plants and vertebrates, 25 families and nearly 500 genera are endemic. Given its large size, continental origins and the existence of five distinct ecoregions, Madagascar is home to the majority of these endemic taxa. However, the neighboring small island states also have significant numbers of endemic genera and even the tiny Gondwanaland fragments making up the core of the Seychelles has two endemic families of considerable scientific interest.


High level endemism is not the only value of the region. Many of these groups are also highly diversified so that, for example, 3.5% of the world’s higher plants and one-quarter of all primates are confined to the region. This combination of endemism and overall diversity in Madagascar is unique on the our planet. Endemism at higher taxonomic levels reflects ancient lineages and the species-rich assemblages that exist today are believed by many scientists to provide unparalleled insights into the nature of ecological communities that have long since disappeared on the larger continental landmasses.

Coral reefs

Madagascar hosts the third largest barrier reef system in the world. All together with the Seychelles, La Réunion and the Iles éparses (France), Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Comoros archipelagos, the region is home to host some of the world’s most important, extensive and diverse coral reefs. Recent surveys indicate that coral diversity is higher in Madagascar than in any of the East African states or the Red Sea, with mollusk diversity as high as in many areas close to the Coral Triangle levels in many areas and while reef fish diversity is far higher than previously expected. Many reef species are shared throughout the vast region and we believe that the diversity of conditions provides a high degree of resilience to climate change impacts.

Mangroves and marine species

The furthermore, the region also has the most extensive mangrove coverage in the Western Indian Ocean. It The region is home also to many endangered species including coelacanths, marine turtles, cetaceans and endemic petrels, and also shares highly migratory species like tuna, billfish and whale sharks, and while having have some of the world’s largest concentrations of tropical seabirds.
The region has a vast array of open seas encompassing more than 3,000,000 km2.


The region plays a key role in tuna and tuna-like fisheries while and shrimp fisheries as these are a major industryies in two of the region’s countriesin Madagascar. These fisheries, far surpassing those of our East African neighbors and supplying Europe and East Asian nations.

Did you know?

Madagascar and the region has 25 endemic families!
  • 7 endemic families of plants (Madagascar and Seychelles)
  • 2 endemic families of freshwater fishes (Madagascar)
  • 2 endemic families of amphibians (Madagascar and Seychelles)
  • 1 endemic family of reptiles (Madagascar and Comoros)
  • 5 endemic families of birds (Madagascar and Comoros)
  • 8 endemic families of mammals (Madagascar)
Aldabra giant tortoise (<i>Geochelone gigantea</i>) walking on the beach, Cousine ... 
	© WWF / Martin HARVEY
Aldabra giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) walking on the beach, Cousine Island, Seychelles. Vulnerable, it is endemic to the islands of Aldabra and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, populations have also been introduced to Mauritius and Reunion.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY