This DVD is not about dinosaurs, though Madagascar has been isolated almost since the time of the dinosaurs. Like the rest of the world, its inhabitants evolved from small creatures that survived the non-bird dinosaur extinction – but Madagascar was separated from both Africa and India so early that its evolution was almost in isolation. Today it has an array of unique plants and animals almost unmatched in the rest of the world, but very much under threat.
This is the latest of David Attenborough’s nature programs for the BBC. There are three programs: Island of Marvels, Lost Worlds and Land of Heat and Dust. Because Madagascar has a mountainous spine, the east and west coasts are quite different. The east coast faces the trade winds and is well-watered; the west coast is a rain-shadow desert. There is also a gradient from the north to the very dry southern tip.
Much of the program is taken up with the lemurs, the fascinating primates of Madagascar. These are forest-dwelling creatures for the most part, many with highly specialized habitats, and are threatened as much by forest clearance as by hunting. If you’ve seen the animated feature, “Madagascar” you no doubt remember the fossa – taking the place of the big cats, but related to mongooses. It turns out they are very hard to find and endangered – as are most of the species native to Madagascar.
Lemurs are far from the only Madagascar endemics. Chameleons, a wide variety of insects, and even some of the birds are unique.
In addition to the three main programs, there are two others: The Lemurs of Madagascar (which follows ring-tailed lemur mothers) and Attenborough and the Giant Egg, which combines Attenborough’s first visit to Madagascar with the present, when the giant eggshell he discovered 50 years ago is carbon-dated. At one time, it seems, Madagascar had truly giant birds.
I like David Attenborough, and the photography on this DVD is up to the BBC standards — high. Definitely worth watching if you like nature programs.