The great pyramids at Giza, EgyptElephants crossing the Zambezi river in Mana Pools National Park world heritage site, ZimbabweThe great mosque in the Old Towns of Djenne world heritage site, MaliBlack and white ruffed lemur, Rainforests of the Atsinanana world heritage site, Madagascar

Strange Worlds



Map showing the location of the three UNESCO-designated natural world heritage sites in South Africa and Madagascar that are characterised by their unique ecology, namely Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, Rainforests of the Atsinanana, and Tsingy de Bemaraha ReserveAt the continent's extremes - way outside the tropics, 35 degrees north and south of the equator - conditions are so different that communities of plants and animals have developed quite unlike anything else. In the north, along the fringes of the Mediterranean, these communities are spread quite widely outside Africa in southern Europe and the Middle East.  But at the continent's southern tip a Strange World has developed, with so many unique species of plants that it has been classified as one of the world's eight plant kingdoms - the famous Cape Fynbos.  Another Strange World exists offshore on the island of Madagascar, where 80 million years of isolation from other land masses has resulted in the evolution of a lost world of strange plants and animals including an extraordinary diversity of lemurs, chamaeleons and other fauna, and more than 8,500 species of plants.  

Three world heritage sites are listed in these ‘Strange Worlds', one in the Cape Floral Region and two in Madagascar.  The Cape Floral Region Protected Areas site was only listed in 2004 and encompasses a series of eight protected areas spread across the Cape Floral Region from the Cedarberg to the Cape of Good Hope and eastwards as far as Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape.  In Madagascar, a suite of six National Parks along the eastern side of the island was added to the world heritage list in 2007 as the Rainforests of Atsinanana.  This serial property protects the richest habitats on the island, and is home to 63% of the islands non-flying mammals, most of which are globally threatened.  On the drier eastern side of the island, the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve is an extraordinary ‘stone forest' of sharp limestone needles eroded from an ancient massif, and harbouring many of the unique species characteristic of the drier parts of the island. Follow the links to learn more about these amazing places!

Iconic Species: Madagascar is home to about 25% of Africa's plant species, with 80-90% of them endemic.  But the island is better known for its lemurs, primitive primates which come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours - from cuddly teddy-bear like sifakas to the bizarre giant-clawed aye-aye and tiny mouse lemurs.  The island ranks in the ‘top ten' list of countries for endemic species for all major groups of animals including mammals (67 endemic species), birds (97 endemics), reptiles (231 endemics) and amphibians (142 endemics).

The Cape Floral Region has 20% of Africa's plant species, half of which occur nowhere else.  Its best-known plants are Proteas, the national flower of South Africa.  There are about 320 species of Protea endemic to the Cape (and another 40 elsewhere in Africa).  Other families of plants that have produced a great diversity of endemic species in the Cape include the Heathers (Ericaceae, 650 endemic species) and the Restios (Restionaceae, with 180 endemic species).

Missing Links:  Madagascar and South Africa are both working on plans to extend the existing sites to include more complete representation of their unique biodiversity.  Madagascar is also proposing to nominate a second serial site encompassing additional protected areas typical of the dry ‘spiny forest' of eastern Madagascar.


Lemurs are unique to the island of Madagascar where they occur in the Rainforests of the Atsinanana and Tsingy de Bemaraha Reserves, both UNESCO natural world heritage sitesLimestone needles are the result of erosion in the 'stone forest' at Tsingy de Bemaraha UNESCO world heritage site (Madagascar), a 'strange world' with its own unique ecologyMost of the world’s Proteas are unique to the fynbos plant kingdom, parts of which are preserved within the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas UNESCO world heritage siteAn enormous diversity of endemic chameleons occurs in the Rainforests of the Atsinanana UNESCO world heritage site (Madagascar)  



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