Madagascar Lemurs Threatened With Extinction
July 13, 2012

Madagascar Lemurs Threatened With Extinction

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

More than a hundred species of lemur are found on Madagascar, a small island in the Indian Ocean just southeast of the African mainland, and a new study suggests that many of these social primates are on their way out.

According to the conservation group International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as many as 90 percent of the 103 species of lemur found on Madagascar should be listed on the Red List of Threatened Species

Since 2009, conservation groups have continuously found evidence that illegal logging and hunting of lemurs is putting an increased strain on lemur populations.

The IUCN´s Primate Specialist Group assessed the situation and found that 23 of the island´s lemurs qualify as Critically Endangered, the Red List´s highest class. The group places half of the species in the Endangered classification, and 19 more in the Vulnerable category. A critical listing means the population numbers less than 50 mature adults, or that the population has declined by 80 percent over ten years.

The new assessment means that 91 percent of all lemurs are listed in “one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” Russ Mittermeier, chairman of the specialist group and president of Conservation International, told BBC News.

The previous assessment on lemur populations, published in 2008, put eight species in the Critically Endangered category; eighteen in the Endangered and 14 in the Vulnerable class.

The latest assessment also confirms that there are more species of lemur than previously recorded. Mounting evidence showed that several lemurs within a single population, which were thought to be of a single species, were actually identified as belonging to more than one species.

But ongoing deforestation and documented cases of lemur hunting have troubled conservationists.

“Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Mittermeier. “There's just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

These barbaric practices have been observed firsthand in the northwest of the island by students from UK´s Bristol Zoo, said the facility´s head of research Christoph Schwitzer.

Schwitzer and his students have recently identified several new species, including some from the mouse lemur family. Schwitzer said at one time he had an optimistic outlook as his team was discovering all these new species. “I thought the project was really going somewhere and the local communities were on our side,” he told Richard Black at the BBC.

“But from 2009 onwards, it just deteriorated markedly. Now we see local people hunting lemurs, even blue-eyed black and sportive lemurs which we never saw before,” said a disheartened Mittermeier.

“In previous years, when you had students working in a forest fragment, you could be certain there would be no illegal acts going on because they knew we'd report them,” he continued. “Now, my assistants find people doing illegal logging and they don't care, they just carry on and it doesn't matter because there's no law enforcement.”

Andry Rajoelina, who overtook the Madagascan government in 2009, has pledged to hold new elections “ASAP.” But those scheduled election dates have come and gone and nothing is being done to protect and preserve the lemurs.

As much as 90 percent of Madagascar´s original forest is now lost. Madagascar´s hardwood trees, such as ebony and rosewood are especially prized and environmental campaigners had recently found beds made of these hardwoods on sale in Beijing for more than a million dollars each.

The IUCN is hoping to publish an updated global Red List next year listing Madagascar´s endangered lemurs, but must first wait for a review by other experts in the field.