OK, I admit it, I'm a sucker for islands and tropical rainforests and primates. Put all these together and I'm like a kid in a candy store. Truth is, there aren't too many places that combine these three things. Spin a globe, and the scarcity of rainforest-covered islands becomes all too apparent. Now think about which ones have primates. Madagascar is one such place.
My love affair with Madagascar started many years ago, on a flight from Johannesburg to Singapore. From the window of the Boeing, at 30,000 feet, the "Big Red Island" lay stretched out below, tantalizingly close, its surface blanketed in spiny forest and broken only by meandering sand rivers bleeding into the azure Mozambique Channel. My dreams of exploring the "Land of the Lemurs" became reality a year later, that first trip passing in a steady, kaleidoscopic blur of rainbow-hued chameleons, fabulous lemurs, and birds with strange names such as asity and ground-roller and vanga. Since then I have returned, at least annually, to this incredible island, and every exploration brings with it new discoveries and the same heady intoxication of that very first visit.
Quite simply, there's no place like it on Earth. A mini-continent separated from the African mainland for over 165 million years, Madagascar has been called the "naturalist's promised land." For here, isolation has led to the evolution of extraordinary life forms, from the bizarre, giraffe-necked weevil to multicolored, two-foot-long chameleons, from the brilliantly colored but noxious tomato frog to the spiny streaked tenrec (which looks like a punk hedgehog on a bad hair day!). But it is undoubtedly the lemurs that are Madagascar's chief wildlife ambassadors: more than 30 species of these endearing creatures survive on the island, modern descendants of an ancient line of early primates.