July 15th, 2012 by James Ayre
Lemurs are the world’s most endangered mammals, an International Union for Conservation of Nature conference has found.
Lemurs are a very diverse group of primates endemic to Madagascar.
An IUCN workshop met this week in Madagascar in order to discuss the Earth’s 103 remaining lemur species — conservation efforts there have been deteriorating the past couple of years amid political turmoil.
“Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world. As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates,” said primatologist Christoph Schwitzer, one of the conference organisers.
More than 90 percent of the Earth’s lemur species were upgraded to critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable on the IUCN’s Threatened Species list. Lemurs are only found on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar.
The continued destruction of their tropical forest habitat, and a continuing upsurge in bushmeat hunting, has greatly depleted lemur numbers since conservation efforts began to fail after a coup in 2009, the IUCN said in a statement late on Friday.
“Following this coup, there has been a serious breakdown of protective measures, with two key protected areas in northern Madagascar, Masoala National Park and Marojejy National Park, both of them part of a UNESCO complex of World Heritage Sites.”
“Political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a more serious threat than previously imagined,” it found.
“The bush meat trade also affected tortoises and other species. Madagascar’s lemurs represent 20 percent of all primates, concentrated in an area less than one percent of global land area where apes roam.”
40 new lemur species have been discovered in only the last 12 years.
Some basic information on Lemurs:
“Lemurs are a clade of strepsirrhine primates endemic to the island of Madagascar. The word ‘lemur’ derives from the word lemures (ghosts or spirits) from Roman mythology and was first used to describe a slender loris due to its nocturnal habits and slow pace, but was later applied to the primates on Madagascar.”
“Although lemurs often are confused with ancestral primates, the anthropoid primates (monkeys, apes, and humans) did not evolve from them; instead, lemurs merely share morphological and behavioral traits with basal primates.”
“Lemurs arrived in Madagascar around 62 to 65 mya by rafting on mats of vegetation at a time when ocean currents favored oceanic dispersal to the island. Since that time, lemurs have evolved to cope with an extremely seasonal environment and their adaptations give them a level of diversity that rivals that of all other primate groups.”
“Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla. Today, there are nearly 100 species of lemurs, and most of those species have been discovered or promoted to full species status since the 1990s.”
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