The magic of Madagascar: Staggering landscapes and breathtaking natural beauty in the world's most unique ecosystem
18:37 GMT, 5 December 2012
This breathtaking collection of photographs documents the staggering natural beauty and scenery of the island of Madagascar home to a unique collection of animals found nowhere else in the world.
Deciated photographer Paolo Torchio, 51, spent over a month travelling through the Western region of the island just off the coast of Africa to capture the stunning shots.
On his travels he captured the island's famous Baobab Trees as well as the jagged 'stone forest' of Tsingy, carved out over millions of years by acidic tropical rain.
Cheeky chappies: Two brown Lemurs forage through the undergrowth on a Madagascan forest floor. Lemurs are unique to Madagascar. The number of known Lemur species is continuing to grow with some estimates putting the figure at 100
Rhino rock: A karst limestone formation, known as Tsingy juts out in front of a jagged backdrop. The name, 'Tsingy' translates as 'where one cannot walk', due to razor-sharp pinnacles made from limestone which have been eroded by tropical rain
Recent arrivals: A Cart pulled by a pair of Zebu cattle trundles along a dusty track. Humans only arrived on the island some 2,000 years ago at which point some Lemur species were the size of gorillas
Isolated and inhospitable, this huge
collection of razor-sharp vertical rocks looks like the last place where
wildlife would thrive.
But despite its cold, dangerous
appearance, the labyrinth of 300ft stones is home to a number of animal
species, including 11 types of lemur.
Italian Paolo, who has lived in
Africa for 22 years, used a tiny flat-bottomed boat called a pirogue to
move 90 miles from the centre of the island to the coast.
He said: 'I'm always looking for new experience in the wild, with new animals encounter and new environmental experience.
'These adventure trips are always
full of funny moments. At one point we lost our way in the pirogue
because an incredible, deep fog was covering everything.'
Madagascar is home to an
extraordinarily diverse collection of animals. They include fossas – which resemble a cross between
cats and dogs, 70 types of lemurs, flying foxes and narrow striped
Its has been an island for more than
120 million years, while its animal population first appeared some time
after 65 million years ago. Humans only arrived on the island some 2,000 years ago at which point some Lemur species were the size of gorillas
Rugged beauty: Another shot of the limestone formation known as Tsingy. Despite their cold, dangerous appearance, the labyrinth of stones is home to a number of animal species, including 11 types of lemur
A cluster of Baobab Trees are beautifully silhouetted against the sunset sky. There are eight different species of this curious upside-down looking tree in the world, six of which are native to Madagascar
Wonders of nature: (left) A baobab tree grows amidst the jagged rocks of the Tsingy showing the Incredible adaptation of life on the island. (right) A pair of Sifaka lemurs cling to the branches of a tree. At one stage Madagascar was covered by 85 per cent forest but this has now been reduced to just 8 per cent
But scientists have long been puzzled how the ancestors of these animals got to Madagascar.
Paolo was forced to paddle through waters teeming with crocodiles in his pirogue, which sits just a few inches above the water.
He added: “It was a lot of fun. Madagascar is a fascinating place. The rock forest is an incredible and remote place.
'This immense slab of limestone was
left exposed to the erosion of acid rains that modelled and shaped those
'Life has adapted to this particular
environment in which plants have their roots in deep caves with their
leaves searching for sun hundreds of meters on top.
'Small, deep forests grow wherever
soil is found between the rocks, giving food and shelter to bewildering
variety of lemurs. This is a unique and still largely undiscovered
Some experts claim the island used to
be connected to Africa by a land bridge and that it became isolated
from the rest of the continent once mammals had arrived.
Rock in a hard place: A huge lump of limestone balances precariously on a stretch of Tsingy photographed in Madagascar. The colossal 'Grand Tsingy' landscape in western Madagascar is the world's largest stone forest
A Brown lemur shows off its incredible bushy tail as gives photographer Paolo a careful once over before darting behind the cover of the rocks
A row of Baobab trees stand like telegraph poles in the hazy morning sun. As Madagascar's population is currently doubling every 25 years, there is ever growing pressure for land, mainly for slash-and-burn agriculture
Hanging out: A Sifaka Lemur mother sits back on the branch of a tree as her baby pokes its head tentatively from behind her back. Since the first humans arrived on the island a third of the lemur species have become extinct and more teeter on the brink
More than nine in ten of the Island's 103
known lemur species are threatened making lemurs
the most endangered animal compared to all other mammals, reptiles,
amphibians, birds and bony fish.
More than 600 new species, including
the world's smallest primate and a colour-changing gecko, have been
found in Madagascar in just over a decade.
But many of these newly discovered
plants and creatures are under threat, particularly from the destruction
of the island's forests, a report by conservation charity WWF warned.
Experts identified more than 615 new
species on Madagascar between 1999 and 2010 – 41 mammals, 385 plants, 69
amphibians, 61 reptiles, 17 fish and 42 invertebrates.
According to the World Wildlife Fund,
Madagascar has lost more than a million hectares of forest in the past
20 years, and in the aftermath of a coup in March 2009 and the
subsequent political turmoil tens of thousands of hectares were raided
Sifaka Lemur spotted climbing a tree in Madagascar A famous Baobab Trees nicknamed 'the lovers' are entwined around each other in an embrace
Another shot of the stunning karst limestone formation known as Tsingy. Despite the inhospitable appearance the jagged rocks are home to numerous species of plants and animals