Endan­gered lemurs ille­gally kept as pets threaten species survival

pub­lished 11 Jan­u­ary 2015 | mod­i­fied 11 Jan­u­ary 2015

An esti­mated 28,000 lemurs, the world’s most endan­gered pri­mates, have been ille­gally kept as pets in urban areas of Mada­gas­car over the past three years, pos­si­bly threat­en­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts and has­ten­ing the extinc­tion of some lemur species, accord­ing to a study by Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity researchers.

Crowned lemurs as captive pets in MadagascarThe find­ings, “Live Cap­ture and Own­er­ship of Lemurs in Mada­gas­car: Extent and Con­ser­va­tion Impli­ca­tions,” are pub­lished online on 5 Jan­u­ary in the inter­na­tional con­ser­va­tion jour­nal Oryx.

Led by Tem­ple biol­ogy doc­toral stu­dent Kim Reuter, the researchers spent three months in Mada­gas­car sur­vey­ing more than 1,000 house­holds in 17 cities and vil­lages across the country’s north­ern half about pet lemur own­er­ship, which is illegal.

You see it every­where; even gov­ern­ment offi­cials and the peo­ple who are sup­posed to be enforc­ing the ban on pet lemurs own them.
Kim Reuter, lead author, Depart­ment of Biol­ogy, Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity, Philadelphia »

We’ve been spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on lemur con­ser­va­tion in Mada­gas­car, but despite spend­ing all this money, no one has ever quan­ti­fied the threat from the in-​country pet lemur trade,” said Reuter. “If we’re spend­ing these mil­lions of dol­lars there to pre­serve these species, we should actu­ally exam­ine all the threats fac­ing lemurs.”

Reuter, one of the cre­ators of the Lemur Con­ser­va­tion Net­work, for which she serves as direc­tor of out­reach and con­tent, said that although pet lemur own­er­ship is ille­gal, enforce­ment is rel­a­tively weak. She said that even though researchers and con­ser­va­tion­ists are aware of the activ­ity, they have his­tor­i­cally focused their efforts on mit­i­gat­ing other threats, such as defor­esta­tion and hunting.

We esti­mated that over 28,000 lemurs are kept ille­gally as pets in Mala­gasy cities over the last three years alone,” said Reuter, who was recently appointed to the Pri­mate Spe­cial­ist Group of the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature’s Species Sur­vival Com­mis­sion. “You see it every­where; even gov­ern­ment offi­cials and the peo­ple who are sup­posed to be enforc­ing the ban on pet lemurs own them.”

At least 14,000 lemur species have pop­u­la­tion sizes of fewer than 10,000, accord­ing to Reuter, who said Madagascar’s exten­sive lemur pet own­er­ship could be quickly dri­ving some species closer to extinc­tion and caus­ing some pop­u­la­tions to go extinct altogether.

Now that we know that lemur pet own­er­ship is hap­pen­ing, and hap­pen­ing at this scale, it’s an issue that we can’t ignore any­more,” she said, adding that lemur pet own­er­ship must be fac­tored into future con­ser­va­tion efforts.

If peo­ple are going to keep lemurs as pets, then more out­reach, reg­u­la­tion and enforce­ment is needed to ensure health­ier cap­tiv­ity for the lemurs, espe­cially in the big cities,” said Reuter, who is a research fel­low at Con­ser­va­tion Inter­na­tional while she com­pletes her Tem­ple doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion. “Con­ser­va­tion pro­grams that don’t con­sider the pet trade of lemurs may unnec­es­sar­ily increase their costs and risk extinc­tion of the very lemur pop­u­la­tions that they are try­ing to protect.”

Kim Reuter is also involved in the recently launched pro­ject ‘Cit­i­zen Sci­ence: Pet Lemurs of Mada­gas­carthat aims to col­lect infor­ma­tion about the pet lemur trade in Mada­gas­car. The pro­gram was launched on 9 Jan­u­ary 2015 and aims to col­lect data through the dura­tion of 2015.

(Source: Tem­ple Uni­ver­sity pub­lic release, 05.01.2015)

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