February 23rd, 2014 by James Ayre
True Lemurs, found only on the isolated island of Madagascar, are the most endangered mammalian group on the planet — more than 90% of all known lemur species are rapidly approaching extinction, primarily as the result of deforestation and habitat loss.
Previous conservation efforts have been generally ineffective, so how do you prevent their extinction? Now, an international team composed of prominent primatologists, conservationists and researchers, think they may have a workable solution. The team has devised an action plan to save the 101 species of lemur that live on Madagascar — one which contains “strategies for 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation, and aims to help raise funds for individual projects.”
Something to note — ‘true’ lemurs are a clade of primates found only on the island of Madagascar, they are entirely unrelated to any of the animals commonly referred to as ‘lemurs’ that live in South Asia. Those animals aren’t primates, they’re related to rodents. True lemurs are primates that have evolved completely separate from the other clades of primates for the last 65 million years.
The University of Western Ontario provides more:
Ian Colquhoun from Western’s Faculty of Social Science co-authored a ‘Policy Forum’ commentary titled “Averting Lemur Extinctions amid Madagascar’s Political Crisis” for the high-impact journal, Science, with many of the top primatologists in the world, including Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at Bristol Zoo Gardens and vice-chair for Madagascar of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) SSC Primate Specialist Group, and Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group.
Vital steps outlined by the collaborators include effective management of Madagascar’s protected areas, the creation of more reserves directly managed by local communities, and a long-term research presence in critical lemur sites.
“Through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism, lemurs have important ecological and economic roles for Madagascar,” states Colquhoun, a professor in Western’s Department of Anthropology and Chair of the Master’s in Environment and Sustainability Program in Western’s Centre for Environment & Sustainability. “I think there is huge potential for Malagasy all over the island to take pride in their lemurs.”
“Native to the shrinking and fragmented tropical and subtropical forests of Madagascar, off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, lemurs are facing grave extinction risks driven by human disturbance of their habitats, including deforestation, and its effects. Combined with increasing rates of poaching and the loss of funding for environmental programs by most international donors in the wake of the political crisis in Madagascar, challenges to lemur conservation are immense.”
Roughly 90% of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed in the 2000 years that humans have lived on the island. Much of this loss has been the result of agriculture. Nearly all of Madagascar’s megafauna has gone extinct in those 2000 years — this includes 8 species of giant elephant birds, 2 species of hippopotamus, a very large species of Fossa, a strange unique mammal named Plesiorycteropus, and 17 species of lemurs. One of the extinct lemurs, Archaeoindris, grew to be as large as a full-grown male gorilla.
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