Ninety-one percent of the world’s 103 lemur species have recently had their statuses updated to either ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’, or ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species. As part of the agency’s efforts to provide greater protection for the animals, the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission met in Madagascar (the only place lemurs call home) to discuss the current state of lemur affairs.
This news comes as a blow to a country that is already seeing its fair share of regional turmoil. Lemurs are now considered the most endangered mammals in the world; and as political unrest and social instability continue throughout the country, researchers expect the already dwindling numbers of this primate family to continue to drop.
“The results of our review workshop this week have been quite a shock as they show that Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world,” explained Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, a world leading primatologist and Head of Research at the Bristol Zoo Gardens. “As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
With their beady eyes and angular faces, lemurs can certainly seem more like opossums and other marsupials rather than the primates they actually are. Lemurs, as it turns out, are some of the oldest living primates in the world. A member of the prosimians group, lemurs—like bushbabies and tarsiers—are among the most primitive of primates, separated from both monkeys and apes.
By catching a ride atop mats of flora, lemurs arrived to their eventual home of Madagascar approximately 60 to 65 million years ago. Since then they have evolved with the country, coping with everything from an extreme environment to a continuously changing society. In 2009, after a failed coup, existing conservation efforts began to deteriorate.
“Following this coup,” the IUCN said in a statement, “there has been a serious breakdown of protective measures, with two key projected areas in northern Madagascar, Masoala National Park and Marojejy National Park, both of them part of a UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] complex of World Heritage Sites.”
Continuous habitat destruction on the island, as well as a rise in bushmeat hunting, has pushed the lemurs closer and closer to the edge of extinction. Additionally, political unrest has slowed down much of the country’s necessary conservation efforts. “Political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a serious threat than previously imagined,” said the IUCN in a statement.
Now that the problem has been identified, we need to find a solution. If things continue at the same pace as we are seeing now, the world can be expect to lose some of its most incredible animals: from the popular ring-tailed lemur (a species that has seen a spike in popularity due to the Madagascar movies) to Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (the smallest primate in the world). “This new assessment highlights the very high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s unique lemur fauna and it is indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole, which is vital to supporting its people,” commented Dr. Russell Mittemeier, President of Conservation International. “As the forests go, so do lemurs and a host of benefits derived from them.”
To urge the government of Madagascar to provide greater protection for the numerous lemur populations, contact the Malagasy Minister of Environment and Forests, and sign the petition here.
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