Madagascar is an island and country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. In total, 90% of Madagascar’s wildlife does not exist anywhere else on the planet; yet sadly, the island has lost 90% of its forest due to deforestation, as the growing native population is forced to exploit the land’s natural resources to survive.
The Avenue (or Alley) of the Baobabs is a uniquely distinctive feature of the island, found in Morondava and Belon’I Tsiribihina in the Menabe region in western Madagascar. This group of baobab trees lining the road originally stood in dense forest that covered the island, but this has now disappeared and only between 20 and 25 of these magnificent trees remaining.
The trees are known locally as ‘renala’, which is Malagasy for ‘mother of the forest’, and are up to 800 years old. Rising to heights of 30 m (~99 ft), and with circumferences of over 20 m (~66 ft), they cast striking and eerie silhouettes at sunset. The trees are far more exposed to the elements now the forest that surrounds them has been cut down.
They are vulnerable to the worst of the weather, like cyclones, where they were once protected from it. Some suffer from root rot, caused by standing close to the rice paddies planted by natives to earn their living. And deforestation has also affected the growth of new trees, as the larger animal population that used to play a role in dispersing the huge baobab seeds has now died out – so very few young baobab trees develop now.
Six of the eight species of Baobab tree worldwide are endemic to Madagascar, emphasising its importance in conservation terms. The Avenue is not as yet formally protected, but was granted temporary protected status in 2007 as a prelude to it becoming Madagascar’s first natural monument. While the site is popular as a tourist attraction, there is no visitors’ centre or admission fee to fund the future of the area.