May 23, 2024

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BBC One – Mammals – Madagascar: the land of mysterious mammals

2 min read

To capture the story of one of the forest’s most unusual inhabitants, the BBC team ventured into the remote jungles of eastern Madagascar, a large island lying 250 miles off the coast of mainland Africa. Having broken away from the rest of the continent some 165 million years ago, Madagascar is famed for its rich biodiversity and host of cast away creatures. Evolving in isolation from the rest of the world, the plants and animals found here are among the most unique on earth, with 90% of species appearing nowhere else. For locals and tourists alike, it is an extraordinary place where over a hundred species of lemur can be found leaping through the trees, while iconic baobabs tower over the land, known locally as ‘mother of the forest.’

Image by Jess Webster. Malagasy guides lead the BBC crew into the forest to look for the elusive lowland streaked tenrec.

For the mammals team, our mission was to document one of the country’s lesser-known residents – the elusive lowland streaked tenrec. Native to tropical lowland forests, these small mammals can be distinguished by their bold yellow stripes and spend most of their lives roving through the thick forest undergrowth. To overcome the daunting task of simply finding our filming subjects in this entangled world, we enlisted the help of a local Malagasy research and conservation group. Their knowledge of the surrounding forest and native wildlife was instrumental to the operation and with time and perseverance, they helped us locate a small family of tenrecs nestled amongst the leaf litter.

Found only on Madagascar, lowland streaked tenrecs belong to a group of more than 30 known species of tenrec, all exhibiting a diverse array of characteristics and behaviour. How their early ancestors reached the island of Madagascar from the mainland remains something of a mystery, but a leading theory is that their descendants rafted across the channel on floating pieces of vegetation, ultimately diversifying into the variety of species we see today. This means that despite their hedgehog like appearance, the lowland streaked tenrec is most closely related to its much larger neighbours on mainland Africa, including aardvarks and more surprisingly, elephants. Yet their striking resemblance to shrews and other spiny mammals is not merely a coincidence, instead representing a clear example of convergent evolution. In this intriguing scenario, mammals in different parts of the world have developed similar morphological traits by adapting to the same niche.

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