Once almost entirely covered in green, lush vegetation, Madagascar has witnessed the destruction of an estimated 80 percent of its indigenous forests. The now reddish-brown terrain can be seen in this true-color
image of northern Madagascar acquired on
May 24, 2000, by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer
(MODIS), flying aboard NASAs Terra spacecraft.
Most of Madagascars 15.5 million residents live and work on the
temperate, mountainous plateau that runs through the center of the
island. Over the past century they have cleared the original vegetation
on most of the plateau for rice farming using slash and burn techniques.
Driven by a need to feed an ever increasing population, the people of
Madagascar continue to encroach on the forests that lie along the
Most of what is left of Madagascars native vegetation can be
seen on the right side of the island in dark green on the image. While
this vegetation on the east coast of the island is primarily tropical rain
forest, the indigenous vegetation on the west coast is dry tropical
deciduous forest. The presence of the plateau has given rise to these
two distinct ecosystems. In both areas, a number of animals and plants
unique to Madagascar are threatened by the deforestation. The most
notable of these are the 32 species of lemur that are endemic to the
island. Only two percent of the islands wilderness is
Image by Brian Montgomery, Robert Simmon, and Reto Stöckli, based on data provided by the MODIS science team.