When I first visited Madagascar in May 1991, the country had just three national parks – Montagne d'Ambre, Isalo and the then recently created one at Ranomafana. Today the island boasts no fewer than 18 national parks plus more than 25 other major protected areas. This is testimony to the increased level of commitment to conserving the island's unique biodiversity in the face of ever escalating threats: a commitment underlined in 2003 by President Marc Ravalomanana, at the 5th World Parks Congress when he announced his government's intention to triple the area of Madagascar's forests under protection. In what is now known as 'The Durban Vision' he said: 'We can no longer afford to watch our forests go up in flames, nor let our many lakes, marshes and wetlands dry up, nor can we inconsiderately exhaust our marine resources. This is not just Madagascar's biodiversity, it is the world's biodiversity. We have the firm political will to stop this degradation.'
Further, the past 16 years has seen a corresponding surge in the volume of research being carried out within the island's forests, wetlands and other natural habitats. Even by the early 1990s there were still only a relatively small number of species that had been studied in any detail and for which anything other than scant information was available. Most research concentrated on the higher profile (and relatively accessible) lemurs that were without question the island's flagship species. Since then, gaps have been filled at an ever-increasing rate. Lemurs undoubtedly remain the island's best studied group, and there has now been field research looking at members of every genus – many of these have turned into long-term investigations.
Research into Madagascar's carnivores, insectivores, rodents and bats has also gathered considerable momentum. In particular, a programme of detailed biological inventories covering forests primarily in the east e.g. Marojejy, Anjanahasibe-Sud [sic], Masoala, Andringitra and Andohahela, but also latterly in the south and west e.g. Zombitse and Mitea, have added greatly to our knowledge of the distributions and ranges of these smaller mammals.
This increased knowledge has led to the recent publication of some landmark volumes perhaps most notably The Natural History of Madagascar, Goodman, S.M. and Benstead, J.P. (eds), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA., a collection of essays and reviews covering a huge range of subjects and aspects of the island's biodiversity from soils and geology to botany, invertebrate zoology, vertebrate zoology, conservation and land management. The chapter covering the mammal fauna is particularly comprehensive and informative.
However, even a volume of this magnitude serves to highlight how many gaps in our knowledge still exist. For instance, since its publication in 2003 no fewer than 35 new mammal species have been described (two rodents, two insectivores, five bats and 26 lemurs) and a number of micro-mammals (bats, rodents, shrew tenrecs) that have already been collected still await formal description. What is more, this is a trend that seems certain to continue as scientists begin to investigate isolated patches of forest for the first time in some of Madagascar's remotest regions.
In this volume I have tried to incorporate all the latest information and make each species account as up to date as possible. Comparison with the original Mammals of Madagascar (Pica Press, 1999) will highlight how far knowledge has moved on. Yet, what is presented here remains far from complete and in some cases will become outdated relatively quickly. Nonetheless this concise synopsis should prove a useful and informative guide for those wishing to discover more about one of the most fascinating and unusual mammalian assemblages on Earth.