There’s nowhere on Earth quite like Madagascar when it comes to the wealth and wonder of biodiversity.

Scientists consider Madagascar to be one of the most endangered biodiversity hotspots on the planet. Even when compared with other hotspots, this region is considered a major conservation priority because of how exceptional and unique it is.

Isolated from the African continent for between 160 and 180 million years, Madagascar has undergone a remarkable evolution, leading to scientific genera—and even entire families—of animals and plants that are found nowhere else.

One of the criteria to define a biological hotspot is having at least 1,500 endemic plant species—and Madagascar possesses an astounding 11,200 endemic species. It also has eight families of plants, five families of birds, five families of primates, and two families of freshwater fish that occur nowhere else in the world.

However, despite this wealth of natural resources, this biodiversity hotspot faces daunting threats.

The island nation is beset by poverty and increasingly erratic climate patterns, which threaten both people and wildlife. Even as new species continue to be discovered in Madagascar, the IUCN has issued a warning about all that we stand to lose. Nearly all of the 115 lemur species are endangered, and a third are facing extinction. Extinctions of other animals and plants could already be underway—organisms wiped out before science even registers their existence.

Madagascar is truly one of our planet’s natural wonders

Madagascar’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems provide millions of people with fresh water, food, and a variety of ecosystem services that are essential to its inhabitants’ quality of life. Its unique geography and extraordinary wildlife make it a gem that the world needs to protect.