March 29, 2010

Memorial Day – Madagascar

This is a patriotic holiday for the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa; it commemorates a 1947 attempt to win independence from France and the horrible response by French soldiers: a massacre of rebels and innocent bystanders. But the good news is that Madagascar did later peacefully gain independence from France and was proclaimed the Malagasy Republic in 1958. It was renamed Madagascar in 1975.

Madagascar is one of the largest islands in the world, and it has lots of very interesting plants and animals, most of which are not found elsewhere in the world.

See if you can figure out which of the “facts” below are ACTUAL facts (in other words, true), and which are false:

1A. Madagascar is the second largest island in the world, being smaller than only the island of Greenland.
1B. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, following Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo.
2A. The main reason that Madagascar's animals and plants are so different from those found elsewhere is that this island split off from Africa (or, rather, from the super-continent that existed way back then, Gondwana) about 160 million years ago, and then split off from India 80 to 100 million years ago—so there was a long period of time during which plants and animals could evolve in their separate paths from the mainland animals.
2B. Madagascar's animals and plants are so diverse because the island enjoyed milder climate and warmer temperatures, brought courtesy of ocean currents, than did the continental areas. With this favorable climate, the plants and animals evolved much faster and became specialized into many different species.
3A. People are thought to have first come to Madagascar around 2,000 B.C., when the ocean channel that separates Madagascar from Africa disappeared, making a short-lived land bridge that people crossed on foot.
3B. Scientists estimate that humans reached Madagascar between 200 and 500 A.D.; it is thought that the first settlers arrived by outrigger sailing canoes from Borneo, and that Bantu peoples crossed the Mozambique Channel by boat soon after.
4A. The unique animals in Madagascar include koalas, rheas (these large birds, similar to ostriches, died out in the 1900s), and primates called baboons.
4B. Some of the animals that are unique to Madagascar include primates called lemurs, elephant birds (which were similar to—but larger than—ostriches, but which became extinct in the 1600s), and meat-eating mammals called fossas.

Answers: The true facts are 1B, 2A, 3B, 4B.

s bugs are unique, too!
Check out the Sunset Moth, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, and the
jewel-like Dung Beetle.

Make a Sunset Moth of your own. One idea can be found here.

Do you like snakes?

Madagascar is home to more than 80 kinds of snakes, but none of them pose much danger to humans. (In the surrounding ocean are two poisonous sea snakes, though!)

Make a cardboard snake that shows how flexible these creatures are.

Learn about a child's life in Madagascar.

Torina is a girl who lives on Madagascar. Check out the book written about her by clicking “View Sample Pages” and then clicking “Next” in the upper right corner of each page. I bet your life is very different from Torina's!

Trevor is a boy who lives on Madagascar. He has a website with information about his life.

Have you seen the animated film Madagascar?

I haven't...but I wonder what happens when mainland-African animals brought up in a big-city American zoo get stuck on the island that has never seen the likes of a lion, giraffe, and zebra before!

Here is a movie website with coloring pages (click “Fun and Learning” at the top of the frame) and other activities.

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