Tuesday, 27 November 2012


My hairdresser is a lovely young woman with a startling pink streak through her bottle-blonde hair. Emerging scruffily from the forest, I went to see her yesterday.

Hairdresser: Didn't you have all your hair cut off last time you was here?

Marsh tit: Yes, I was travelling again.

Hairdresser: Where was you going?

Marsh tit: I've been in Madagascar for six weeks.

Hairdresser: You're kidding me; I love that film.

This mammal fauna is exceptional for two major reasons. Firstly, every native terrestrial species (a total of approximately 148) is endemic, i.e. they occur naturally nowhere else. No other island or place on Earth boasts such a combination of species richness and endemism. And secondly, these mammals have evolved an extraordinary diversity of both forms and lifestyles often displaying significant convergence with continental forms but also at times evolving utterly unique features […]. The reason for this is simple: Madagascar has been an island for a very long time, which has allowed its mammals to evolve along totally different lines from anywhere else.

Nick Garbutt
Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide

These Austronesians, with their Austronesian language and modified Austronesian culture, were already established on Madagascar by the time it was first visited by Europeans, in 1550. This strikes me as the single most astonishing fact of human geography for the entire world. It’s as if Columbus, on reaching Cuba, had found it occupied by blue-eyed, blond-haired Scandinavians speaking a language close to Swedish, even though the nearby North American continent was inhabited by Native Americans speaking Amerindian languages. How on earth could prehistoric people of Borneo, presumably voyaging in boats without maps or compasses, end up in Madagascar?

Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel – a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years

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