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The Independent Culture
If you fancy a search for the aye-aye, or any of the other 22 species of the endearing tree-dwelling lemurs, including the cute ringtailed variery, or even have the urge to identify 300 or so types of the reptile family, then Madagascar is your destination. The world's fourth largest island, it broke off from the African continent 160 million years ago, and since then its flora and fauna have followed their own evolutionary path, resulting in forms that are unique.

Madagascar is home to the two rarest birds of prey, the Madagascar serpent eagle and the Madagascar fish eagle, as well as the world's four smallest primates - the hairy-eared dwarf lemur, the grey mouse lemur, the brown mouse lemur and the pygmy mouse lemur.

One of the smallest of the Seychelles, littered over the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles off Africa, the one mile by three mile Bird Island is the ornithologist's paradise, best known for the 1.5 million sooty terns which nest and hatch their eggs there from May to November. Apart from wildlife watching, there's nothing much else to do except read, relax and snorkel among shoals of tropical fish, but island-hoppers can combine a couple of nights' visit with trendy La Digue, or the so-called "Garden of Eden", isle of Praslin, home to the unique coco- de-mer tree.

The islands where Charles Darwin conceived his pioneering theories of evolution in 1835, the mysterious Galapagos, 600 miles adrift in the ocean off the South American coast, offer a living laboratory of weird and wonderful species from giant tortoises to strange marine iguana. Isolated for so long, the birds and animals show little fear of man, allowing visitors to observe their rituals and behaviour at close quarters.

The Falkland Islands, 350 miles east of South America, are now more accessible with the introduction of scheduled flights from Britain via Chile. Most visitors go there in search of teeming wildlife; the islands harbour more black-browed albatrosses, rockhoppers and gentoo penguins than anywhere else on earth.

Most dramatic of all the sub-Atlantic islands, South Georgia rises 9,000 feet out of the sea, its shoreline carved out by more than 100 glaciers. The islands have some of the greatest concentration on the planet of breeding grounds for albatrosses, skuas, macaroni penguins, fur seals and elephant seals.

The lush, velvety hills of Indonesia's Komodo look like paradise, but they must have been the original hell for most of its inhabitants exiled on the island by a neighbouring sultan. They had to cope with the swamps, volcanoes, snakes and the famous "dragons", the fearsome, prehistoric, fork-tongued lizards which still roam the area. They can grow up to 6 feet in length, and are able to munch through a wild boar in one sitting. There are currently about 3,000 Komodo dragons left.

Madagascar: Reef & Rainforest Tours (01803 866965) offers 17-day tours for pounds 1,695. STA (0171 361 6262) has flights to Antanarivo at pounds 749 return.

Seychelles: Island-hopping tours from Inghams (0181 780 4450) from pounds 1,411 for 10 nights. STA have flights to Mahe, starting from pounds 587 (inter-island flights leave regularly from there).

Galapagos: Two-week cruises from pounds 2,575 including flights through Worldwide Journeys and Expeditions (0171 381 8638). Flights to Quito in Ecuador, can be booked with STA for pounds 529.

Falklands: Flights via Chile from pounds 950 at STA. Explorer Voyages aboard the expedition ship `World Discovery' which circumnavigates the Falklands and South Georgia, with stays on the islands, cost from pounds 5,795 for 20 days including flights, from Noble Caledonian (0171 409 0376).

Komodo: Flights to Bali from pounds 6l0 at STA. Daily ferries and cruise boats leaving from Bali and Lombok may visit several islands in the same group.