People relatively recently arrived in Madagascar. The oldest date for which archaeologists have definite evidence for the presence of human beings is only about 1200 years ago.
Where did these people come from? The language they speak is most closely related to languages from Indonesia, suggesting that people sailed across the Indian Ocean to settle on Madagascar.
When people first arrived on the island, they found an environment very different from what we see today. In the central highlands, rolling hills would have been covered with a mix of forest, woods and grassland. There, herds of long-eared pygmy hippopotamuses, giant tortoises and 10-foot tall elephant birds would graze, while in the surrounding brush, gorilla-sized lemurs trimmed the foliage. Wolf-sized giant fossas and huge crocodiles hunted these big mammals.
People not only hunted animals like hippopotamuses and elephant birds for food, they introduced sheep, goats and cattle. These animals competed with native grazing animals, and further contributed to their extinction.
Today, people continue to change the environment in Madagascar. They clear forest to build homes and open pastures, they cut and burn down patches of forest for fields (a process called tavy), and they fish in the rivers and lakes. Madagascar is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, and conservationists must consider ways to help the people of Madagascar improve their lives as well as protect the unique animals and plants that live on the island as the population of Madagascar continues to expand.
What was happening in other parts of the world when the first people arrived in Madagascar?
How does the fact that people are recent arrivals to the island of Madagascar influence the island's biodiversity and culture?
Why do you think that East African people weren't the first to settle Madagascar?
How do we know these animals lived in Madagascar?
You can still find their bones, called ‘subfossils' because they're not yet old enough to be classified as fossils. Populations of some animals, such as elephant birds, probably survived as late as 1700