Madagascar's missing megafauna: life after lemurs, hippos and elephant birds

What can we learn from these extinct ecosystem engineers?

Famed for its incredible biodiversity and charismatic lemurs, the island of Madagascar is considered by many to be a forest-island paradise. The reality is that the island has had an ecosystem collapse, lost most of its natural forests, wetlands and grasslands, and is in dire need of conservation and regeneration. Large animals, or ‘megafauna’, are key parts of ecosystems around the world, distributing nutrients, engineering landscapes and propagating plants, yet they are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate during the current extinction crisis. Madagascar was host to a diverse array of megafauna, including giant lemurs, hippos and elephant birds, which together tell us a great deal about the landscapes of the island before humans began deforestation and development of agriculture around 1000 years ago. Without these ecosystem engineers, Madagascar has only retained its much smaller animals to perpetuate healthy and productive biomes. What can we learn about Madagascar’s past, present and future by exploring the diversity of these now-extinct giant animals? How does the recent palaeontological record inform conservation? How are conservation organisations fighting back against Madagascar’s extinction crisis?


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  • Dr James Hansford, Institute of Zoology, ZSL and Northern Illinois University: "The Elephant birds in the room: Madagascar's avian giants and their ecology"
  • Associate Professor Karen Samonds, Northern Illinois University: "In the footsteps of giants: deciphering the details and demise of Madagascar's subfossil communities"
  • Dr Richard Young, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust: "The Madagascar pochard: a cautionary tale of near extinction"

This event will be chaired by Professor Danielle Schreve, Royal Holloway, University of London.


Attending this event

  • This Science and Conservation Event is free to attend and booking is not required.
  • Doors open at 5pm for a 6pm start.
  • Seats are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Venue: Huxley Lecture Theatre at the Meeting Rooms of the Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, NW1 4RY. See map
  • Underground: Camden Town Station; Nearest bus: no. 274.
  • A drinks reception for ZSL Fellows and their guests is held from 5pm – 5:50pm.  More information on ZSL Fellowship can be found here.


ZSL Library Events

The ZSL Library will be open before the event and will offer free introductory talks to its special collections from 4.45pm - 5.05pm; no need to book. Please contact or click here for further information, including some specially themed events.


ZSL Wild Science Podcast

We will be creating a fascinating podcast episode featuring some of the speakers from this event, so be sure to keep an ear out for it in the following months! Listen to more of our award winning ZSL Wild Science podcast episodes hosted by Research Fellow Dr Monni Bohm here.



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