A British photographer has undertaken an epic 20-year foray into one of the world's strangest eco-systems. Nick Garbutt, 46, from Cumbria, has made 25 trips deep into the forests of Madagascar. He has visited the island every year since 1991. Over the two decades, Nick has built up an extraordinary collection of wildlife photography, revealing the island's unusual and colourful species up close.
An adult male fossa (Crytoprocta ferox) prowls on the deciduous forest floor of the Kirindy Forest, western Madagascar
Cut off from mainland Africa for 160 million years, the island's native species have evolved features that are found nowhere else. Many of the animals seen in Nick's images can only be found in Madagascar.
A verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) skips across open space in spiny forest at the Berenty Private Reserve, southern Madagascar
Worryingly, a large number of the animals in these pictures may disappear in the next 20 years. The desperately poor local community are logging the natural forests using slash and burn techniques to make way for crops like rice. A vast quantity of the wood harvested from the destroyed forest is also used for charcoal. Nick said: "In its pristine condition Madagascar was covered by 85% forest and this has been reduced to just 8%. What is even more shocking is that 50% of the destruction has happened in the last 50 years. I have seen massive destruction since I began going out in 1991 and I don't hold out much hope."
A male lance-nosed chameleon (Calumma gallus) in the lowland rainforests near Mantadia NP, eastern Madagascar
While the number of national parks is growing on the island, conservationists fear it will not be enough to save many animals. "When I first visited Madagascar there were only two national parks," says Nick. "This has now grown to 20 and they are supposed to be a haven for the animals where cutting the trees down is illegal, but in practice it doesn't always work."
An adult black & white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) hangs off a branch in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, eastern Madagascar
"There's an inevitability that all the national parks will just become managed islands of habitat containing a small number of individuals, and this still equates to a loss of animals," he says. "A large amount of individuals will simply die out and we will be left with a few protected remains in the parks. We need to slow the levels of destruction and maintain the amazing diversity."
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) basks in the sun at dawn, Berenty Private Reserve, southern Madagascar. (Digitally stitched image)
Nick Garbutt with an orphaned baby ring-tailed lemur, near Tsimanampetsotsa National Park in November 2009
A recently emerged male comet moth (Argema mittrei) dries its wings in the forest understorey in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar
A male giraffe-necked weevil (Trachelophorus giraffa) in the Montane rainforest, Vohiparara, Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar
A leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) rests on a tree trunk during the day in Nosy Mangabe, north east Madagascar
A painted mantella frog (Mantella madagascariensis) in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, eastern Madagascar
A male panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) stalks prey in beach-side vegetation at the Bay of Antongil, Masoala Peninsula National Park, north east Madagascar
A helmet vanga (Euryceros prevostii) is seen near its nest in Masoala NP, north east Madagascar
In a fascinating encounter, Nick also captured the odd-looking Aye Aye. With a flesh-less middle finger, it is able to 'fish' in tree bark for grubs and scoop coconut out of its shell.
Madagascar: British photographer Nick Garbutt's 20-year survey of the island's wildlife - Telegraph