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SECTION IV.—THE MALAGASY SUB-REGION
The island of Madagascar is separated from the mainland of Africa by the Mozambique Channel, which, though only about 250 miles across at its narrowest point, is more than 100 fathoms deep throughout its extent.
For our recent knowledge of the fauna of Madagascar we are chiefly indebted to the great work of Grandidier 1 (3). Unfortunately, up to the present time only the plates and a small portion of the letterpress of that part which deals with the mammals have been published.
Out of a total number of forty-seven genera of mammals found in this Sub-region, no less than thirty-three are exclusively confined to it. Of the others, two or three occur also on the mainland of Africa, and the remaining twelve-most of which are bats—are cosmopolitan, or at any rate extend beyond the limits of the Ethiopian Region.
The Ungulates are represented in Madagascar by only one form-a peculiar River-hog (Potamochorus) closely allied to the South African species, but still sufficiently distinct to have earned a title to a separate appellation. With this exception, the Ungulates, so numerous and so conspicuous a feature on the African continent, are entirely absent from Madagascar.
The Rodents are represented in this Sub-region by seven genera of Mice, containing thirteen species, all confined to it.
The Malagasy Sub-region possesses six peculiar forms of
1 Dr. Forsyth Major's recent explorations in Madagascar have added considerably to our knowledge of its smaller mammals, particularly of Rodents and Insectivores.
Carnivores, of which the most remarkable is the Fossa or Cryptoprocta—a large cat-like animal allied to the Civets, but sufficiently distinct to form a separate family (see Fig. 19, p. 102) according to some authorities. Of the Civets, besides a Viverricula closely allied to the Indian Civet, there are six genera with eight species of Mongooses, all confined to the island. Of these the most remarkable is Eupleres—a form the jaws and teeth of which are so weak and small, that it was at one time thought to belong to the Insectivora. On the whole, out of the seven genera of Carnivora found in the island, six are absolutely peculiar.
Among the Insectivora of this Sub-region even greater specialisation prevails. Besides two species of ubiquitous shrews (Sorex) said to occur there, there are eight genera of this Order found in Madagascar, all of which are confined to the island. Geogale, a small mouse-like animal about which little is known, is said to be allied to Potamogale, an aquatic otter-like animal found only in Western Africa. The remaining seven genera make up the family Centetidæ, the affinities of which are somewhat doubtful, but seem on the whole to approach the Solenodonts, a group confined to the Greater Antilles. The best known of the Centetidæ is the Tenrec—the largest member of the order, between twelve and sixteen inches long, and devoid of a tail (see Fig. 20, p. 104). The young of this creature are covered with spines like a hedgehog, but these are lost in the adult state.
The Bats of Madagascar, as would naturally be expected, do not exhibit the great peculiarities found among the other orders of mammals. Out of about twelve genera only one is confined to the island. The distribution of Pteropus, the genus of large tropical fruit-eating bats, often called “Flying-foxes,” is interesting. Five members of this genus are found in the Malagasy Sub-region, including two species in the Comoro islands, and although these islands are almost within sight of the mainland of Africa, not a single representative of the true Pteropus has yet been obtained on the continent.
Finally, among the Lemurs we reach the culminating point of the Fauna of this strange land. No less than eleven genera of this Sub-order are entirely confined to the Sub-region, while outside of it there are only five genera now in existence, two of them belonging to Africa proper, and three to the Oriental Region.
The lemurs are none of them very large; they are all
arboreal animals, spending their lives retired in the forest, and, as a rule, strictly nocturnal. Though allied to the monkeys, they have none of their vivacity and intelligence;
they move but slowly, and have usually very large eyes, which are no doubt necessitated by their nocturnal habits. The lemurs inhabiting Madagascar are divided into two families : (a) the Lemuridx, with ten genera and about