Madagascar, 80 Million Years Alone

Madagascar lemur
   Supposing that a group of animals—a variety of species established in the same environment—were physically isolated by some natural catastrophe from the rest of the world: would they evolve in their own fashion, to be discovered, perhaps, ages later as living relies of the past? Science fiction has toyed with this question; ecologists deal with it realistically, on islands. Madagascar, for example, 250 miles off the east coast of Africa, has been cut off from that continent for perhaps 80 million years. Since that long-ago time the island has acted as a refuge for forms of life that have become rare or extinct elsewhere. Of its plant life, for instance, 80 percent is unique to the island, found nowhere else. Chameleons originated there (opposite and Madagascar still has half of all the species known worldwide. There are also 46 genera of birds that occur nowhere else. Particularly interesting are Madagascar's lemurs, primates which elsewhere were unable to compete with their cousins, the monkeys, and so died out. Generally small in size and with considerably less developed brains than the monkeys, the lemurs throve in the isolation of their island and today their many species lead both diurnal and nocturnal lives and fill a wide variety of niches. Superstitious native tribes helped them to survive by putting the fady, or tabu, on them because they believed they once had been men.