46 thoughts on “Madagascar Updates: Chapters 1-6

  1. All international airlines serving Madagascar have now resumed regular scheduled services following the pandemic*.

    The following routes are operating into Antananarivo Ivato Airport:
    • FROM PARIS: Air France (4x per week); Air Madagascar (2x)
    • FROM ISTANBUL: Turkish Airlines (1x)
    • FROM ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Airlines (3x)
    • FROM NAIROBI: Kenya Airways (3x)
    • FROM REUNION: Air Austral (7x); Air Madagascar (2x)
    • FROM MAURITIUS: Air Mauritius (4x)

    The following routes are operating directly into Nosy Be Fascene Airport:
    • FROM ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Airlines (3x)
    • FROM MILAN: Neos Air (1x)
    • FROM REUNION: Air Austral (up to 4x)
    • FROM DZAOUDZI: Ewa Air (1x)

    The following routes are operating directly into Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) Airport:
    • FROM REUNION: Air Austral (1x)
    • FROM DZAOUDZI: Ewa Air (1x)

    The following routes are operating directly into Toamasina (Tamatave) Airport:
    • FROM REUNION: Air Austral (2x)

    *NB: Airlink is not currently flying to Madagascar as all flights from South Africa are suspended owing to political reasons unrelated to Covid.

  2. As of today, 11 August 2022, there are no Covid requirements for entering Madagascar. The requirements for pre-embarkation and on-arrival tests have been scrapped. There is also no requirement to be vaccinated against Covid to enter Madagascar. This is very positive news for the island’s battered tourism sector. A phased reopening of Madagascar’s borders began in October 2021, with all airlines finally resuming services by July 2022 (except for routes from South Africa, which remain suspended for political reasons unrelated to Covid.)

  3. Telma launched its first commercial 5G network in Madagascar in 2020, making the country one of the first not only in Africa but worldwide to adopt the technology. Even now, two years later, only around 10% of African nations have rolled out 5G networks publicly, with a similar number in a pre-release testing phase. So far in Madagascar, however, the roll-out is still quite limited geographically, with parts of Antananarivo, Toamasina and Mahajanga having been upgraded to this latest generation of mobile technology.

  4. According to landing card statistics just released by the Ministry of Tourism, there were 69,383 international arrivals into Madagascar in the first half of 2022, Some 58% were non-residents, of which almost two-thirds stated that the purpose of their visit was tourism. As usual, the predominant nationality of foreign visitors was French followed by Italian.

  5. A new genus of tiny frogs was described from southeast Madagascar in 2019, called Mini in recognition of the Lilliputian scale of these hitherto undescribed amphibians. The scientific names of the genus’s three diminutive members were afforded a trio of whimsical epithets: Mini mum, Mini scule and Mini ature.
    Hopefully they won’t suffer the same fate as the pair of equally offbeat Amazonian butterflies Charis ma and Charis matic, which were reclassified into the genus Detritivora almost as soon as they were first described back in 2002, nor that of Abra cadabra, a bivalve mollusc from the Persian Gulf named in 1957 but later sadly found to be identical to the already existing but drearily named Theora mesopotamica. (At least the party poopers haven’t yet come for Riga toni, a prehistoric fly described in 2013 from Ukrainian amber deposits.)

  6. Brasseries Star Madagascar will no longer be licensed to produce and distribute Coca-Cola products as of next month, according to an announcement released today. Popular brands belonging to Star – which holds a near-monopoly on the island’s drinks sector – include THB, Fresh, Bonbon Anglais, Cristal and Caprice. From 1 July, they will no longer be permitted to continue production of Coca-Cola, Sprite or Fanta. The news had been expected: Africa Intelligence reported last year that the US soft drinks giant was hesitant to renew its deal with Star Madagascar, an offshoot of Castel, and noted that Coca-Cola has also been dissolving several of its other African partnerships in recent months. Some months ago, in anticipation of this change, Star launched an own-Brand cola under the label D’jino.

  7. A new study has found that the number of fires inside protected conservation areas across Madagascar spiked dramatically during the pandemic. The researchers looked at a period of five months during 2020 when lockdowns led to the suspension of on-site management at the reserves. Comparing data for this period to that from the previous decade, they found that the number of fires significantly increased, peaking in June 2020 at 348% of the usual level. Burning rapidly returned to normal levels once lockdowns ended and staff returned to their posts. The Cambridge University-led study was published last week by a multi-national team of scientists from Madagascar, UK, Finland, Denmark and USA.

  8. A new book by primatologist and anthropologist Alison Richard was published last month in hardback, e-book and audiobook formats. It’s called “The Sloth Lemur’s Song: Madagascar from the Deep Past to the Uncertain Present”, and it tells the story of Madagascar as a place of continual change from early prehistory to the present day. The book is shaped by the author’s experiences as a researcher on the island over a timespan of more than 50 years, during which our understanding of plate tectonics, island biodiversity and evolution have themselves evolved significantly.

  9. Direct flights between Australia and Madagascar could soon be a reality, according to an announcement by the Malagasy Transport Minister. “I signed an operating license for an Australian airline yesterday,” revealed Roland Ranjatoelina; “the goal is to revise downwards the price of plane tickets.” The news came as part of a statement about the ongoing phased resumption of routes to Madagascar following the lengthy pandemic border closure. It is not yet known which Australian airline is involved, how regular services could be, or indeed when they might commence. It is most likely that the route would be between Perth and Antananarivo – a distance of some 6,900km, or 80% of the distance from Paris to Antananarivo.

  10. Air Madagascar, the country’s national airline, has had a rather precarious couple of decades since the turn of the millennium. In 1999, they defaulted on repayments to private lenders whose investments had allowed them to expand their fleet from the 1970s onwards. The government’s plans to privatise the airline stalled as a result.
    A political crisis in Madagascar in 2002 led to a 70% drop in passenger numbers and cargo for several months, worsening the airline’s financial woes. In the ensuing turmoil, consultants from Lufthansa were brought in to manage the airline for twelve months. Things began to look up and creditors were persuaded to write off half of the company’s debts in return for a promise of full repayment of the remainder within three years.
    But things did not go smoothly after the Lufthansa contract ended. And by 2011, Air Madagascar had been blacklisted by the EU due to its aging fleet and banned from European airspace. Costly deals were struck with first Atlantic Airways and then Air France to provide third-party aircraft to operate their regular Paris routes.
    There followed several more failed attempts to take the company private. Eventually, in 2018, a strategic partnership was formed with Air Austral – a regional airline based in the neighbouring French island of La Réunion – who acquired a 49% stake in Air Madagascar. A subsidiary airline called Tsaradia was created to operate all domestic flights, while international flights continued under the name of the parent company.
    Almost immediately, Air Austral appeared to have regrets – and after the pandemic hit, they decided to cut their losses and bailed on the agreement barely two years after first signing it. This left Air Madagascar with debts of some US$80 million. In 2021, three of its ATR-72 aircraft were impounded by creditors.
    Around the same time, it was rumoured that the airline would be rebranded as Madagascar Airways, with the Tsaradia subsidiary expected to be merged back into the main company. If or when that will happen remains to be seen. The airline continues to have a very high staff-to-passenger ratio, much to the ongoing irritation of the government. Last month they indicated their intention to purchase a 114-seat Embraer E190 from the Brazilian manufacturer for its domestic and regional routes.

  11. Following a meeting at Madagascar’s Transport Ministry last week, it has been decided to ban wheeled cabin luggage from all flights outbound from Madagascar, reportedly in an effort to combat gold trafficking. Furthermore, laptops will not be allowed in the cabin as it is claimed internal components can be swapped for gold. In recent years, there have been several cases of passengers carrying several kilos of gold being intercepted at various airports around the world, while en route from Madagascar to the Middle East. Even in these cases where the gold was confiscated, it has proven extremely challenging for the Malagasy state to have it repatriated.

  12. The world record for the highest scoreline in footballing history was set in Madagascar on 31 October 2002 when Stade Olympique de l’Emyrne (SOE) were beaten 149-0 by their arch-rivals AS Adema. The extraordinary match was part of a playoff tournament to determine the national championship, the THB Champions League – which SOE had won the previous season.
    Every single one of the 149 goals was an own goal scored by SOE players in protest at a refereeing decision that had angered their coach, Zaka Be. Their opponents stood around looking bemused during the farcical match, and spectators reportedly descended on the ticket booths to demand refunds.
    In the aftermath, the Malagasy Football Federation suspended the coach and several players, and then the federation was itself dissolved by the Ministry of Sport. To this day, SOE holds the Guinness World Record for the most own goals scored in a professional football match.

  13. In 2020, the ethical chocolate brand MIA (Made In Africa) launched a Girls’ Education Fund under its ‘1 for Change’ programme to support vulnerable students. It has been working in partnership with Money for Madagascar, who note that school enrolment has significantly decreased in the country, falling as low as 55% in some areas. Of every 100 children who start primary school only 33 make it to secondary school, while girls are the most impacted by the education crisis in Madagascar as they are the first to be removed from school to assist with domestic chores and to support family income. The first two recipients are secondary students in Antananarivo.

  14. In July 2020, Air Madagascar formally ended its partnership with Air Austral, whose 40% stake returned to government ownership, in a move that had been anticipated even before the pandemic hit. Facing continued financial pressures, Air Madagascar was reported to have accumulated losses of US$70m. In September 2021, three of its ATR-72 aircraft were impounded by creditors with a sole fourth in operation with its domestic subsidiary Tsaradia.

  15. Madagascar was reported in 2021 to be losing each year more than 5,000ha of mangroves which currently cover 236,400ha, mostly on the west coast. The Ministry of Agriculture intends to re-establish 10,000ha by 2023 with World Bank finance of US$3m.

  16. In the rich volcanic soils of central Madagascar’s Itasy province grows a rare and fragrant coffee coveted by bats and humans alike. The bat-nibbled beans are especially coveted. Wild bat spit supposedly gives the coffee a uniquely smooth flavour and longer-lasting aftertaste, sending demand for an already expensive specialty bourbon pointu coffee soaring to nearly €220 /kg – more than 50 times the price of commodity-grade coffee. (Bourbon pointu, or Coffea arabica var. laurina, is a naturally low-caffeine variety that traces its roots to La Réunion.) Madagascar used to produce mainly the lower-quality robusta beans used for instant coffee, but increasingly premium varieties of higher-value arabica coffee are being grown.

  17. A new book A Strange Campaign: The Battle for Madagascar by Russell Philips was published in 2021. It relates to Operation Ironclad in the Second World War when British forces landed on the island in 1942 to help prevent Japan using it as a strategic base to disrupt the supply line to India.

  18. In 2020, a new orchid species from Madagascar was officially named, and described by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew as the ugliest orchid in the world: ‘Most people think of orchids as showy, vibrant and beautiful, but Gastrodia agnicellus is quite the opposite. The 11mm flowers of this orchid are small, brown and rather ugly. After the G. agnicellus is pollinated, the stalks grow, holding the fruits well above the forest floor so that the dust-like seeds can better disperse. The orchid depends on fungi for nutrition and has no leaves or any other photosynthetic tissue. The new orchid has been assessed as threatened, but with a small range occurring within an already protected national park, the plants do have some protection for now.’

  19. In 2020, a new species of huntsman spider was described in Madagascar and named in honour of the climate activist Greta Thunberg – as Thunberga greta – by German arachnologist Peter Jager.

  20. To mark the country’s 60th anniversary of independence, President Andry Rajoelina launched a campaign intended to plant 60 million trees on 40,000ha of land prepared for the purpose and using drones in certain areas. The ambitious project started with 1.2m trees in the district of Ankazobe. USAID has helped with funding, as part of a commitment of $57m to the preservation of forests and biodiversity. In early 2021, the Ministry of the Environment said that 18m had been planted to date on 18,000ha.

  21. The president of Madagascar’s tourism confederation said the sector had lost out on US$500m in revenue in the year 2020 owing to the pandemic. By the middle of that year, the industry confederation reported that 90% of the 300,000 jobs in the tourism sector were technically redundant, with implications for some 1.5m people dependent on an income which had also represented 7% of the country’s GDP.

  22. Two recently described leaf chameleons in the genus Brookesia bring the total number to 31, all endemic to Madagascar. B. tedi was described in 2019 and B. nana earlier this year (2021). The former is from Marojejy and the latter from the Sorata Massif in northern Madagascar.
    B. nana is now thought to hold the title as the world’s smallest chameleon, despite which the males have proportionately rather large genitals.
    According to the latest analysis, B. peyrierasi comes from Masoala, Nosy Mangabe and Makira; B. tristis from French Mountain; B. desperata from Forêt d’Ambre, B. tuberculata from Montagne d’Ambre; B. confidens from Ankarana; and B. micra from Nosy Hara. The name B. minima, formerly considered widespread in the north, is now considered to come from a somewhat more restricted area that includes Nosy Be and nearby parts of the mainland. Another species found from Marojejy up to Daraina is currently referred to B. cf. karchei and may eventually be designated as a new species.

  23. Details of the British Embassy in Antananarivo as of December 2020 (note the change from FCO to FCDO):

    HM Ambassador David Ashley
    Address: Tour Zital, Ravoninahitriniarivo Street, Ankorondrano, Antananarivo
    Telephone: +261 (0)20 22 330 53
    Email: British.EmbassyAntananarivo@fcdo.gov.uk
    Website: gov.uk/world/organisations/british-embassy-antananarivo
    Facebook: facebook.com/ukinmadagascar
    Twitter: @UKinMadagascar
    FCDO travel advice: gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/madagascar

    British Consulate in Toamasina (Tamatave)
    Honorary Consul: Michel Gonthier
    Address: c/o La Ligne Scandinave, BP 18, 2 rue Lieutnenant Bérard, Toamasina
    Telephone: +261 (0)20 53 325 69
    Email: michel.gonthier-honcon@fconet.fco.gov.uk

    Malagasy Embassy in London
    Chargé d’Affaires: Olivia Rakotonirina
    Address: 5th floor, One Knightsbridge Green, London, SW1X 7NE
    Telephone: +44 (0)20 7052 8277
    Email: contact@mdg-london.org;
    Website: mdg-london.org

    In addition to being the official representation of Madagascar in the United Kingdom, the jurisdiction of the London embassy extends to the Republic of Ireland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

  24. John Grehan, author of ‘The Forgotten Invasion’ about the British invasion of Madagascar in World War II published in 2007, also wrote a 2013 book on the same topic called ‘Churchill’s Secret Invasion: Britain’s First Large Scale Combined Operations Offensive 1942’ (published by Pen & Sword Military).

  25. When using international cards at to withdraw cash from ATMs of BFV banks, there is now a fee of 8,000Ar per withdrawal. At BOA machines, the fee is 10,800Ar per withdrawal. There is usually no local ATM fee for making withdrawals at BMOI, MCB or BNI machines.

  26. Staff at Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park went on strike today in protest at the recent announcement that the park would be put under the management of Axian Group, in a contract to run for the next 30 years. The move has been widely seen as an act of privatisation or selling-off. The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research has countered these objections, couching the proposal in terms of a beneficial “collaboration”.

  27. New rules from Madagascar’s Ministry of Economy & Finance regarding bringing cash into and out of Madagascar came into force in July 2021.
    When leaving Madagascar, any sum of cash in foreign currencies greater than 1,000 euros in total value must be accompanied by a certificate (attestation d’allocation) issued by an approved foreign exchange bank. Failure to produce a valid certificate may result in the money being seized. The total amount exported may not exceed 10,000 euros, or equivalent.
    Non-resident travellers arriving in Madagascar must declare quantities of cash being brought in. On departure at the end of their stay, the certificate must be presented to justify the re-export of any unspent currency.
    According to a somewhat self-contradictory report in the Madagascar Tribune, the total taken out of Madagascar by non-resident travellers must not be in excess of 1,000 euros, but we are seeking clarification on this point.

  28. Air Madagascar is soon to rebrand under the name Madagascar Airways. Its subsidiary Tsaradia, created in 2018 to operate the company’s domestic routes, is expected to be remerged into the main brand.

  29. Malagasy language note: “Ohatrinona?” – the expression for “how much is it?” – literally translates as “the equivalent of what?”
    Inona means what; and ohatra means measure/similar/equivalent/example/comparison.

  30. Last month, an extraordinarily long-tongued hawkmoth – whose existence was famously predicted by Charles Darwin – was designated as a species in its own right. Researchers made the announcement after conducting genetic studies and concluding that the moth, now called Xanthopan praedicta, is sufficiently distinct from X. morganii, of which it was previously considered a subspecies.

  31. For anyone wishing to fly a drone in Madagascar, restrictions and regulations apply. Drones up to 25kg are permitted (or 4kg over built-up areas) for appropriate purposes, such as filming, but are not permitted to be flown for purely recreational reasons. You can request an authorisation for using drones in the country from Aviation Civile de Madagascar (ACM): download the form (“Formulaire de demande d’autorisation exceptionnelle d’utilisation d’un aéronef qui circule sans pilote à bord”) from their website at http://www.acm.mg/ . Allow at least 8 weeks to obtain the approval.

  32. A new species of leaf chameleon, Brookesia nana, was described in 2021. It brings the total number of species in the genus to 31, all endemic to Madagascar and around a quarter of which have been described since 2000. The new species comes from the rainforest floor in the Sorata Massif of northern Madagascar.

  33. New research has resolved a long-standing controversy about an extinct ‘horned’ crocodile that likely lived among humans in Madagascar. Based on ancient DNA, the study shows that the horned crocodile was closely related to ‘true’ crocodiles, including the famous Nile crocodile, but on a separate branch of the crocodile family tree. The study contradicts recent scientific thinking and also suggests that the ancestor of modern crocodiles likely originated in Africa.
    “This crocodile was hiding out on the island of Madagascar during the time when people were building the pyramids and was probably still there when pirates were getting stranded on the island,” said lead author Evon Hekkala, an assistant professor at Fordham University and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. “They blinked out just before we had the modern genomic tools available to make sense of the relationships of living things. And yet, they were the key to understanding the story of all the crocodiles alive today.”

  34. Six new species of coffee (Coffea) have recently been formally introduced to the world of science, bringing the global total count of recognised coffee species to 130 – fully half of which come from Madagascar. The six new species are endemic to the forests in the north of the island and four of them are thought to have very localised distributions.

  35. ShopRite announced in August 2021 that it is pulling out of Madagascar, where it currently operates ten supermarkets. The South African chain, which has been present in Madagascar for almost two decades, blamed the withdrawal on negative sales growth over the past year. French supermarket chain Super U has since confirmed rumours that they have agreed to purchase the chain, which is expected to be rebranded in 2022.

  36. Although it has long been known that there are several variant forms of Madagascar’s emblematic traveller’s palm, they have until now always been treated as a single species, Ravenala madagascariensis. But a new study published in Nature this week has split that into six distinct species. R. madagascariensis remains the name of those typically found along the east coast, while five new species have been added: R. agatheae (northwest), R. menahirana (northeast), R. hladikorum, R. blancii and R. grandis (the last three from the highlands).

  37. Palaeontologist Aro Rakotondrabao is currently creating an outdoor museum about 65km west of Tana at Ambatolevy, at the site of a former vazimba settlement, where the villages continue the tradition of lamb sacrifice.

  38. As of yesterday, 15 November 2018, the option to obtain a 90-day-duration visa on arrival has been suspended. Now it has been confirmed that only 30-day (€35) and 60-day (€40) tourist visas are obtainable on arrival at Ivato Airport in Madagascar.
    Border police at the airport are vague about the reasons, saying only that it is a “government decision”. The fact that this change has happened without warning, and without any official announcement from the tourism ministry or tourist office, is leading some to suspect that the reasons for the suspension may have some shady connection to the currently ongoing presidential elections, in which case we may expect the 90-day visa to be reinstated in due course. For now, there is no official word on the reason for or duration of the suspension.

  39. When buying fossil ammonites and nautilus as souvenirs, you must ensure to get a receipt from the seller. Be aware that, before leaving the country, it is necessary to take the receipt to the Ministry of Mines desk in Ivato airport to receive an export authorisation. The desk is usually unmanned, but the telephone number of the officer on duty should be displayed at the desk so that they can be summoned. There is no cost for the authorisation document. Attempting to pass through the customs checks, where all baggage is scanned, without an authorisation paper is likely to result in the fossils being confiscated or a bribe being demanded. Note that there is a limit of three ammonite or nautilus fossils per person, although there is some flexibility in this and more pieces may be permitted if they are not too large. Quantities deemed to be commercial are not permitted.

  40. The octopus tree family, Didiereaceae, formerly comprised 11 species that are all endemic to Madagascar. However, following some recent taxonomic revisions, the family now also includes nine further species from the African mainland.

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