AboutZoos, Since 2008


Sav­ing lemurs from extinc­tion: an emer­gency 3-​year action plan amid Madagascar’s polit­i­cal crisis

pub­lished 23 Feb­ru­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014

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

Marohita mouse lemurNative 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 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, chal­lenges to lemur con­ser­va­tion are immense.

An arti­cle pub­lished on 21 Feb­ru­ary in the jour­nal Sci­ence explains that there is still hope for lemurs despite the pro­found prob­lems. Pri­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens and vice-​chair for Mada­gas­car of the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) SSC Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group, was lead author of the arti­cle, which was co-​authored by 19 lemur con­ser­va­tion­ists and researchers, many of which are from Mada­gas­car or have been work­ing there for decades.

The research stresses the impor­tance of imple­ment­ing a pdfnew emer­gency three year IUCN lemur action plan — recently pub­lished by Dr Schwitzer and other lemur experts from around the world — which out­lines a way for­ward for sav­ing Madagascar’s 101 lemur species. The action plan con­tains strate­gies for 30 dif­fer­ent pri­or­ity sites for lemur con­ser­va­tion and aims to help fundraise for indi­vid­ual projects.

Lemurs have impor­tant eco­log­i­cal and eco­nomic roles and are essen­tial to main­tain­ing Madagascar’s unique forests, through seed dis­per­sal and attract­ing income through ecotourism
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, lead author, head of research at Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens and vice-​chair for Mada­gas­car of the (IUCN) SSC Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group »

“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 explains. ” Their loss would likely trig­ger extinc­tion cas­cades. The impor­tance of the action plan can­not be overstated.”

Vital steps out­lined in the action plan include

sta­bi­liz­ing the imme­di­ate cri­sis in pri­or­ity areas.

lay­ing the ground­work for longer-​term actions in all habi­tats that are cru­cial for pre­vent­ing lemur extinc­tions.

the pro­mo­tion and expan­sion of eco­tourism; lemurs rep­re­sent Madagascar’s most dis­tinc­tive ‘brand’ for tourism, pro­vid­ing liveli­hoods for the rural poor in envi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive regions and often fos­ter­ing local val­u­a­tion of pri­mates and ecosys­tems.

sus­tain­ing and expand­ing the long-​term research pres­ence in crit­i­cal lemur sites; field sta­tions that sup­port a per­ma­nent pres­ence of local and inter­na­tional field work­ers can serve as train­ing grounds for Mala­gasy sci­en­tists while deter­ring ille­gal hunt­ing and log­ging.

Endan­gered lemur species of Mada­gas­car:

(Source: Ryan M. Bolton YouTube Channel)

Cur­rently Bris­tol Zoo, along­side other Euro­pean zoos, man­ages one of the few long-​term research sta­tions for mon­i­tor­ing lemurs in Madagascar’s forests. Work­ing on grass­roots projects with local com­mu­ni­ties and pro­mot­ing and expand­ing eco­tourism — one of the country’s most impor­tant for­eign exchange earn­ers — are other impor­tant com­po­nents of the action plan.

Dr Schwitzer said: “Despite pro­found threats to lemurs, which have been exac­er­bated by the five-​year polit­i­cal cri­sis, we believe there is still hope. Past suc­cesses demon­strate that col­lab­o­ra­tion between local com­mu­ni­ties, non-​governmental organ­i­sa­tions and researchers can pro­tect imper­illed pri­mate species. Mada­gas­car recently held their first post-​crisis pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. There are encour­ag­ing signs that the new pres­i­dent, for­mer finance min­is­ter Hery Rajaonari­mampianina, will set the con­di­tions for a return to effec­tive gov­er­nance and, very impor­tantly, resump­tion of inter­na­tional aid.”

He added: “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. Mada­gas­car — and the world — would undoubt­edly be much poorer with­out them.”

Dr Rus­sell Mit­ter­meier, Pres­i­dent of Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tional and Chair of the IUCN SSC Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group, co-​authored the arti­cle in Sci­ence and the IUCN lemur action plan. He said: “The actions needed to pre­vent fur­ther lemur extinc­tions, as out­lined in the Lemur Con­ser­va­tion Strat­egy, are ambi­tious but attain­able. Lemurs, tor­toises, rose­wood, and other nat­ural resources in Mada­gas­car have been col­lat­eral dam­age and vic­tims of the polit­i­cal insta­bil­ity that has per­sisted for nearly five years. How­ever, with the new democratically-​elected gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Rajaonari­mampianina, we have high hopes that this exploita­tion of nat­ural resources will be cur­tailed in the near future. Indeed, dur­ing a recent meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Rajaonari­mampianina, we dis­cussed lemur con­ser­va­tion and eco­tourism, the rose­wood trade, and the impor­tance of Madagascar’s bio­di­ver­sity as its most vis­i­ble and impor­tant global brand and key ele­ment in long-​term human well-​being and poverty alle­vi­a­tion. These were all issues about which he was already well-​informed. As a result, I am feel­ing opti­mistic about Mada­gas­car for the first time since early 2009.”

Lemurs on IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species
Of the 101 sur­viv­ing lemur species, 22 are now clas­si­fied Crit­i­cally Endan­gered, 48 are Endan­gered, and 20 are Vul­ner­a­ble on the IUCN Red List, equat­ing to 94 per­cent of the world’s lemur species for which suf­fi­cient data were avail­able to enable their assess­ment against the Red List criteria.

(Source: Bris­tol Zoo Gar­dens press release, 21.02.2014; IUCN news, 21.02.2014)

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