A map of Madagascar Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, lies off the coast of southeastern Africa. A narrow ridge runs the length of the eastern coast, covered by what remains of Madagascar's rainforest. To the west are the central highlands, dominated by grassy plains, patchy forest or rocky massifs. Some of Madagascar’s best farmland is also found in this region, and most of the country’s people live here too. Towards the western coast, the land slopes down to wide, marshy plains and swampy mangrove forests. Madagascar’s climate is hot and tropical along the coast, but cooler and drier in the mountains. There is a rainy season from March to November. The island is often hit by cyclones, huge tropical storms that destroy everything in their path. The last major cyclone struck in 2008.
Madagascar's people are known as the Malagasy. The island’s first settlers were Indonesian and Malay people from Southeast Asia. It is thought that they arrived by sea in canoes more than 2000 years ago. Later, they were joined by Arabs and Bantu Africans. Madagascar’s modern population is descended from a mixture of these peoples. Today, there are about 18 different ethnic groups in Madagascar, including the Merina, Betsimisaraka and Betsileo. They all speak the Malagasy language, which is similar to languages spoken in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Madagascar covers less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, but it is home to around 5% of all the plant and animal species on the planet. About 90% of these are unique to the island.
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