Madagascar Primates In Peril
October 15, 2012

Primates In Peril Report Highlights 25 Most Endangered Primates

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Madagascar´s isolation has led to the island developing some of the most unique plants and animals – so much so that many ecologists refer to it as the “eighth continent.”

Unfortunately, a report titled “Primates in Peril” from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has singled-out Madagascar as home to six of the twenty-five most severely threatened primate species living on the island located just off the eastern coast of Africa.

According to the report, these threatened monkeys, lemurs and gorillas are suffering from deforestation, loss of habitat, poaching and illegal trafficking.

"This report shows that the world's primates are under increasing threat from human activities," said Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF) who was involved in the study.

"Whilst we haven't lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” he added.

One of the worst situations detailed in the report was that of the Madagascar's rarest lemur, the northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis). Also known as the northern weasel lemur, only 19 individuals are left in the wild, according to the report.

"The lemurs are now one of the world's most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar,” explained Schwitzer.

In 2009, the government was overthrown by coup d´Ã©tat and conservation standards fell during the ensuing chaos. The U.S. government has denounced the current government´s ability to protect endangered species, including the rare lemurs.

According to Schwitzer, political upheaval and instability which affects and threatens species is not exclusive to the island nation.

"A similar crisis is happening in Southeast Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction," Schwitzer said.

The report also noted the impending threat facing the pygmy tarsier (Tarsius pumilus) of Indonesia, a four-inch long primate that typically weighs around 2 ounces. This tiny primate was only seen in museums until 2008 when three were captured and one individual was seen in the wild.

The IUCN report was not without good news as Russell Mittermeier, a chairman at the IUCN, noted that biodiversity is in a constant state of flux.

"Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000," Mittermeier said. "What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest."

Many biodiversity experts say some conservation efforts are beginning to pay dividends, with several primates being removed from endangered lists. Two such primates were India's lion-tailed macaque and Madagascar's greater bamboo lemur after they were targeted for conservation efforts and appeared to have recovered.

To combat the local threats to biodiversity, Madagascar has set up five nature reserves, 21 wildlife reserves, and 21 national parks. The international community has also rallied around the preservation of biodiversity in Madagascar with six of the national parks declared a joint World Heritage Site in 2007. They are the: Marojejy, Masoala, Ranomafana, Zahamena,  Andohahela and Andringitra parks.