28,000+ Endangered Lemurs Illegally Trafficked As Pets In Madagascar — Survival Of Multiple Species Threatened

More than 28,000 endangered lemurs (across a variety of different species) are currently illegally kept as pets in the only country that they exist in, Madagascar, according to a recent study.

Even important public figures, and also those who are supposed to enforce the ban, were apparently found by the study to keep them as pets — with said practice threatening the continued existence of the species altogether, as well as nullifying many of the conservation actions taken by various organizations and government bodies.

Lemur in cage

Even without taking the long-term survival of the various species into consideration, it should be noted that “true lemurs” (the various primate species found only in Madagascar, not the rodents endemic to South Asia) are in general very intelligent, social animals — as all primates are — keeping them as pets is really quite selfish and cruel when it comes down to it.

Anyways.. the main takeaway from this new research is the fact that not only deforestation, desertification + its associated effects, and hunting, are driving these animals to extinction — but now also, apparently, the pet trade.

The new research was led by the Temple biology doctoral student Kim Reuter — who, along with her team, spent 3 months in Madagascar surveying over 1,000 households, across 17 cities and villages in Madagascar’s northern half.

“We’ve been spending millions of dollars on lemur conservation in Madagascar, but despite spending all this money, no one has ever quantified the threat from the in-country pet lemur trade,” Reuter stated. “If we’re spending these millions of dollars there to preserve these species, we should actually examine all the threats facing lemurs.”

(Author’s note: That’s another important takeaway — despite the large amounts of money spent on most conservation efforts, the actual effectiveness of said efforts/approaches is often very questionable. Much of the money put into conservation initiatives seems to just disappear into thin-air.. And, perhaps more importantly, most initiatives don’t (and in many cases, can’t) address the fundamental causes of various species declines. But to be honest, do most of those that donate to conservation efforts truly want said drivers of species decline to be stopped? Or do they merely want to assuage their sense of guilt?)

As far as the causes of this rise in lemur “pet ownership” go, the research shows that it’s pretty straightforward — enforcement of the laws that are already on the books is generally quite weak.

Interestingly, Reuter noted that “researchers and conservationists are aware of the activity, (but) they have historically focused their efforts on mitigating other threats like deforestation and hunting.”

“We estimated that over 28 thousand lemurs are kept illegally as pets in Malagasy cities over the last three years alone,” stated Reuter. “You see it everywhere; even government officials and the people who are supposed to be enforcing the ban on pet lemurs own them.”

Considering that many species are already moving faster and faster towards extinction, the growth of the pet trade represents yet another obstacle to preventing further extinctions (many, many lemur species have gone extinct on the island since settlement ~2000 years ago).

“Now that we know that lemur pet ownership is happening, and happening at this scale, it’s an issue that we can’t ignore anymore,” she noted. “If people are going to keep lemurs as pets, then more outreach, regulation and enforcement is needed to ensure healthier captivity for the lemurs, especially in the big cities. Conservation programs that don’t consider the pet trade of lemurs may unnecessarily increase their costs and risk extinction of the very lemur populations that they are trying to protect.”

With the rising tides of deforestation, desertification, and overhunting, continuing in Madagascar, though, it’s questionable (to my mind) exactly how much can be done to prevent most future extinctions there.

The findings were just published in a paper in the journal Oryx.

Image Credit: Temple

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