July 22, 2008

Rare Lemur Population Discovered In Madagascar

Experts on Tuesday said the discovery of 30-40 endangered greater bamboo lemurs living far outside the only other area they were known to exist has renewed hope for the survival of the species.

They were found in the Torotorofotsy wetlands of east central Madagascar, more than 400 km (240 miles) north of the isolated pockets of bamboo forest where the rest of the known populations of the species live.

Edward Louis, a U.S. conservation geneticist who coordinated the joint research, said finding the extremely rare Prolemur simus in a place where nobody expected it was probably more exciting than discovering a new lemur species.

The discovery of the distinctive lemurs with jaws powerful enough to crack giant bamboo, their favorite food, occurred in 2007 in the Torotorofotsy wetlands of east central Madagascar, which is designated a Ramsar site of international importance under the 1971 Convention on Wetlands.

The previously known populations that total about 100 individuals have been threatened by habitat destruction caused by slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging, making the existence of the newly found lemurs particularly valuable.

"Our hope is that the presence of these critically threatened creatures will increase efforts to protect their habitat and keep them alive," said Rainer Dolch of MITSINJO, a Malagasy group that manages the Torotorofotsy site.

Biologists say about 90 percent of species are unique to the giant island of Madagascar.  Its varied terrain, including rainforest, dry forest, lowlands and mountains are thought to be part of the reason for its profuse biodiversity and geologic history.

Madagascar drifted off some 100 to 200 million years ago from the African mainland. It eventually drew colonist species, including lemurs, whose ancestors probably rafted over on floating vegetation, scientists say.

MITSINJO and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, supported by the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and Conservation International, carried out the latest research.

The researchers will present their updated information on the greater bamboo lemur on August 3-8 at the International Primatological Society 2008 Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland as part of a new assessment of the world's primates that shows the state of mankind's closest living relatives.


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