Lying 400 km off the east coast of Africa and with a land area of over 580,000 km2, The Republic of Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo, extending almost 1,600 km from north to south and spanning approximately 570 km at its widest point. A mountainous backbone, with the highest point Maromokotro at 2,876 m, runs the length of the island, roughly demarcating the steeply sloping eastern escarpment and coastal lowlands from the more gently sloping plateaux and lowlands of the west. Prevalent trade winds blowing in from the Indian Ocean are forced to rise by these mountains, dropping most of their moisture and resulting in a belt of evergreen forest that once blanketed almost the entire eastern third of the island. By contrast, the western two-thirds of Madagascar lie in a rain-shadow, with fairly arid scrub and deciduous forests being the dominant vegetation types.
As on islands around the world, humans have impacted Madagascar heavily since their arrival about 2,000 years ago, with increasing forest fragmentation, almost total conversion of native vegetation to sterile, exotic grasses introduced for livestock, heavy pressure on remaining deciduous forest for fuel wood and charcoal, and on-going replacement of wetlands with rice paddies.
The population is some 17.5 million people and the official languages are French and Malagasy. For more information please refer to: CIA Factbook.