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Five Years Of Political Turmoil Has Had A Devastating Effect Upon Madagascar’s Lemur Population. With A Democratically-Elected Government Now In Place, Is It Too Late To Bring These Endangered Primates Back From The Brink Of Extinction?

lemur 2©Conservation International/Photo by Russel A Mittermeier

With more than 90 per cent of species threatened by extinction, lemurs are the most threatened mammal group on earth.

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 the human disturbance of their habitats.

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, the challenges to lemur conservation are immense.

lemur 1©Conservation International/Photo by Russel A Mittermeier

Of the 101 surviving lemur species, 22 are now classified Critically Endangered, 48 are Endangered, and 20 are Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. This adds up to 94 per cent of the planet’s lemur species.

However, an article published by primatologist Dr Christoph Schwitzer, vice-chair for Madagascar at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s SSC Primate Specialist Group, explains that there is still some hope for lemurs despite these profound problems.

Schwitzer’s article stresses the importance of implementing a new emergency three-year action plan that outlines a way to save Madagascar’s 101 lemur species. The plan contains strategies for 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation and aims to help fund-raise for individual projects. 

lemur 3©Conservation International/Photo by Russel A Mittermeier

"Fact is that if we don’t act now, we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time since our records began," Schwitzer explained. "Lemurs have important ecological and economic roles and are essential to maintaining Madagascar's unique forests, through seed dispersal and attracting income through ecotourism. Their loss would likely trigger extinction cascades. The importance of the action plan cannot be overstated."

Vital steps include effective management of Madagascar's protected areas, the creation of more reserves directly managed by local communities, and a long-term research presence at critical lemur sites. Working on grassroots projects with local communities to promote ecotourism opportunities is integral to the success of the action plan, as Madagascar's biodiversity is a key element to poverty alleviation in the country.

Madagascar recently held its first post-crisis presidential elections. There are encouraging signs that the new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, will set the conditions for a return to effective governance and – importantly – the resumption of international aid. This means that the exploitation of the country’s natural resources could be curtailed in the near future.

"We urgently invite all stakeholders to join our efforts to meet the action plan's goals and to ensure the continued existence of lemurs and the considerable biological, cultural and economic richness they represent,” concluded Schwitzer. “Madagascar - and the world - would undoubtedly be much poorer without them." 

 

 

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