Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Madagascar's Lemurs:The Most Threatened Mammals

According to a press release of Conservation International, lntentAccording toeading conservationists gathered at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission recently to review the conservation status of the world’s 103 lemur species  which is the most endangered primate group in the world.

The results of the conference announced, highlight that many lemur species are on the very brink of extinction due primarily to habitat loss, and are in need of urgent and effective protection measures.

Black-and-white lemur (Varecia variegata). Copyright: Conservation International. Photo by: Sterling Zumbrunn

The conservation status of 91 per cent of the world’s lemur species have now been upgraded to either ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species — an indicator of rampant forest loss which additionally endangers vital ecosystem services that support Madagascar’s people.
Of the world’s 103 different species of lemurs, 23 are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’, 52 are ‘Endangered, 19 are ‘Vulnerable’ and two are ‘Near Threatened’. Just three lemur species are listed as ‘Least Concern’. 
A previous assessment carried out in 2005 as part of a Global Mammal Assessment identified 8 species as ‘Critically Endangered’, 18 as ‘Endangered’, and 15 as ‘Vulnerable’, already a very high number. Given the recent increases in the number of new species and the fact that the level of threat has increased over the past three years, the experts decided to carry out a reassessment of Madagascar’s lemur fauna.
Lemurs are in danger of becoming extinct by destruction of their tropical forest habitat on their native island of Madagascar, off Africa's Indian Ocean coast, where political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a more serious threat than previously imagined.
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, is a world leading primatologist and is on the organising committee for the conference in his role as advisor on Madagascar’s primates and the Red List authority for the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Primate Specialist Group.
Greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus). Copyright: Conservation International. Photo by: Russell A. Mittermeier
Explaining the significance of the lemur assessments,Dr Christoph Schwitzer said : “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. As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
Among the most spectacular species of lemurs assessed as ‘Critically Endangered’ is the indri, the largest of the living lemurs and a species of symbolic value comparable to that of China’s giant panda, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, at 30 grams the world’s smallest primate, and the blue-eyed black lemur, the only primate species other than humans that has blue eyes. Probably the rarest lemur is the northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), of which there are only 18 known individuals left.
Dr. Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of IUCN/SSC’s Primate Specialist Group, said: “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. As the forests go, so do lemurs and a host of benefits derived from them.”
“Madagascar’s unique and wonderful species are its greatest asset and its most distinctive brand and the basis for a major tourism industry that continues to grow in spite of the current political problems."
The workshop, held in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, included a welcome speech by British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, who is a great fan of lemurs and welcomed the work being done by conservationists to protect these rare creatures. The workshop also had the support of the Ambatovy Nickel Mining Project, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation.
Delegates who attended the conference were from the UK, Madagascar, the United States, Canada, India, Germany, Italy and France; they are now working together to establish a Conservation Action Plan to protect the most threatened lemurs over the coming decade.
Dr Schwitzer said: “This conference is a good example of the growing importance of collaboration between the international conservation, research and zoo communities in the protection of species and habitats. At Bristol Zoo Gardens, we will continue our conservation and research with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of the conservation activities, as well as increasing our understanding of these, and other, critically endangered species.”
A more positive outcome of the conference has been the discovery of a previously unknown species of lemur — a type of mouse lemur — discovered by Peter Kappeler and his team at the German Primate Center. The new species is found in the Marolambo area of eastern Madagascar. A formal description of the species has not yet been published, meaning it has not yet been given a name. This is the 103rd taxon of lemur known to man.
In Madagascar, Bristol Zoo is working with other European zoos to protect the last remaining populations of two critically endangered lemur species, the blue-eyed black lemur and the Sahamalaza sportive lemur. Both are only found on the Sahamalaza Peninsula in the northwest of the island and are threatened by habitat destruction and hunting.
Bristol Zoo’s work in the field is carried out through the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), which is based at Bristol Zoo Gardens which is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.
Slash and burning for burning forest for farmland in

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