Ring-Tailed Lemurs Declining Rapidly, Now Fewer Than 2,500 Left, Research Finds

The iconic ring-tailed lemur of Madagascar (the only place that the primates known as “true lemurs” have ever existed) is rapidly headed towards extinction, according to new research from the University of Victoria in British Columbia and CU Boulder.

The research found that as a result of growing levels of: habitat destruction, deforestation, open-pit mining, capture for the “pet” trade, and hunting for bushmeat; that there are now fewer than 2,500 ring-tailed lemurs left in the world.

The press release provides more: “The study, led by Professor Lisa Gould of the University of Victoria, indicated only 3 sites in Madagascar are known to contain more than 200 of the primates. In addition, 12 sites now have populations of 30 or less, and there are 15 sites where ring-tailed lemurs have either become locally extinct (extirpated) or they have a high probability of disappearing in the near future.”

“This is very troubling,” stated co-author CU Boulder Professor Michelle Sauther, a 30-year veteran researcher of ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. “They are disappearing right under our noses.”

“Ring-tailed lemurs are like the canary in a coal mine,” continued Sauther. “If they are going down the drain, what will happen to the other lemur species on the island that have more specific habitat and diet requirements?”

As noted towards the start of the article, while deforestation, the illegal wildlife trade, and bushmeat hunting are all playing a part in the decline of the ring-tailed lemur (and practically every other lemur species out there), the rapid spread of open-pit sapphire mining in recent years has played a part as well.

The typical great-rich-quick dream that so much of the modern world is based around, in other words, is helping to annihilate nearly a hundred million years of evolutionary divergence. While some could argue that many of those taking part are quite poor, that doesn’t change the fact that destroying one’s immediate environment certainly doesn’t make one “rich.” And that the actions taken will simply and directly lead to the desertification of much of the land in question.

As a bit of a further explanation of what’s going on here — Madagascar is an island off the coast of east Africa that’s been more or less isolated for a very, very long time now, that’s home to many animals that live nowhere else (such as the primate lemurs), and that’s roughly the size of California. Since humans arrived there around 2,000 years ago much of the island’s unique wildlife has gone extinct — this includes the 10-foot tall elephant birds and a great many lemur species, including some that were as large as gorillas, amongst others.

Deforestation, desertification, over hunting, and in recent years the “pet” trade as well, have all played a major part in the disappearance of the island’s unique animals. There are currently around 22 million people living in Madagascar.

“It’s likely that the ring-tailed lemur population will eventually collapse,” Sauther concluded. “We are getting an early warning that if we don’t do something very quickly, the species is going to become extinct. And this is the one primate species in Madagascar we never thought this would happen to.”

The study findings are detailed in a paper published in the journal Primate Conservation.

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