Madagascar is the largest African island situated in the Indian Ocean, about 450 km east of the coast of Mozambique.
The fourth largest island in the world, it has been isolated for about 88 million years and many of its plants and animals are unique to the island. The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India about 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation.
With an area of 587,041 km², the island is slightly larger than France. The island is recognized as one of the world's top ten hotspots for biodiversity.
Madagascar is inhabited by various ethnic groups of Malayo-Indonesian, mixed African and Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry. Five centuries before the Europeans discovered the island Malayo-Indonesian seafarers arrived in roughly the first century A.D., the Arabs followed in the 6th century to establish trading posts.
Since the 16th century French and British influence left its mark.
In October 1958 the Malagasy Republic was proclaimed as an autonomous state within the French Community and gained full independence in June 1960.