The Avenue of the Baobabs is a line of baobab trees on either side of a dirt road in western Madagascar. The dirt road lies between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina in the region of Menabe. The avenue is some 260 meters long and includes 20 to 25 trees belonging to the species Adansonia Grandidieri, reaching a height of 18 meters. The trees are over 800 years old. The immense size and striking look of the trees makes for a remarkable landscape. The diameter the large trees can be up to 36 feet with a circumference of 160 feet. No wonder the Avenue of Baobabs is one of the major tourist attractions of Madagascar, drawing travelers from all over the world. It has been a focus of local conservation efforts and became temporarily protected in 2007, making the Avenue Madagascar’s first natural monument.
Historic Loss of Malagasy Forests
Baobab trees are known locally as Renala, which translates to ‘mother of the forest’. The Avenue of the Baobab is a recent phenomenon; the trees did not always tower in isolation over the rustic landscape. There used to be dense forest of Baobab trees, which was regularly cleared for agriculture and building material as the population grew. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and its people have long been dependent on the deciduous trees. The fruits are eaten, leaves are used for medicinal purposes and the big trunks are often hewed out to serve as shelters or storage space. The locals have preserved what is left as much out of respect for the cultural heritage as for their value as a source of food.
The Avenue of the Baobabs is said to the most beautiful road in Madagascar and easily accessible by road. A ride through the Avenue is a memorable experience. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit the site when colors of the trunks acquire new shades and the shadows of the trees are the most pronounced, creating a more exotic atmosphere. The Avenue is also a photographer’s paradise. A few kilometers from the Baobab Avenue are the Baobab amoreux, two baobab trees twisted around one another in an eternal embrace. There is a legend that the trees are the incarnation of a two lovers who could not marry and have a child together. The trees are a popular destination for local sweethearts and young women come here to pray for a child. Though the Avenue of Baobabs is a major tourist destination of the country receiving thousands of visitors annually, the locals derive little economic benefit from tourism.
Surrounding Habitats and Biodiversity
Madagascar is a little known country, with a stunning natural panorama. It boasts of a rich ecosystem with an incredible variety of flora and fauna, which have evolved for millions of years in perfect isolation. Few people know that is the reason 90% of Madagascar’s wildlife cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Unique Malagasy (i.e. hailing from Madagascar) animals include Ring-tailed lemurs, Madagascar crested ibises, Cryptic warblers, Malagasy scops-owls, Tylas vangas, Madagascar boa snakes, Mount d'Ambre leaf chameleons, Peters' spotted geckos, Madagascar tomato frogs, anchariid catfish, and Madagascar rainbowfish.
Environmental Threats and Conservation
For centuries, the local populace of the region has been actively interacting with nature. Despite conservation efforts human activity continues to pose a serious threat to the baobabs and the singular ecosystem of the island. The rural communities are so dependent on the natural resources of the island that the country has lost 90% of its forest cover. However, in recent years, authorities have woken up to the environmental threats and have taken up various initiatives to save the forests. Madagascar has launched several preservation and reforestation projects and adopted many regions as national parks. But more needs to be done to safeguard the remaining baobab trees and the endangered species living in the surviving forests.