Image of the Month January 2024: White-breasted Mesite

Photographer: Daniel Danckwerts   Destination: Madagascar


It’s no new information that Madagascar is absolutely packed full of unique and interesting wildlife, but to understand where all these weird and wonderful versions of familiar bird and animal families come from, we must look back in time, approximately one hundred and seventy million years ago.


At this time, Madagascar was landlocked in the middle of the supercontinent Gondwana, sandwiched between land that would eventually become South America and Africa and land that would become India, Australia, and Antarctica. Through movements of the Earth’s crust, Madagascar, along with India, first split from Africa and South America and then from Australia and Antarctica and started heading north. India eventually collided with Asia, which consequently created the tectonic ripple that was to become the mighty Himalayas, but Madagascar separated from India and was left marooned in the Indian Ocean. Left in evolutionary isolation for a good 80 million years or so, this in conjunction with a fascinating combination of Asiatic and African ancestral influence, has resulted in an exciting level of endemicity on the island.


This image of the month was taken by Daniel Danckwerts on tour in Madagascar and is of the White-breasted Mesite. An excellent visual aid to demonstrate the bizarre evolutionary path life on the island has taken. This odd ground-dwelling species belongs to an endemic family of only three members, the Mesitornithidae, which diverged from all other birds 16 million years ago during the Neogene period. They are unfortunately the only bird family with more than two species in which every species is threatened (all three are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List). Rarely seen, even by those expressly looking for it, this species is truly awesome to watch as they move in pairs or family groups, walking on the forest floor in search of invertebrate prey.


The wild endemicity of Madagascar of course doesn’t stop with the birds, approximately 95 percent of Madagascar's reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth. Charismatic Lemurs, massive Chameleons, disproportionate insects and many more all occur throughout the out-of-this-world habitats on Madagascar. Certainly, many of which need to be seen to be believed.