Aug 20
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In the News: Lemurs heading towards extinction

Madagascar’s lemurs could be all but wiped out within the next 20 years unless drastic action is taken, according to primatologists.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur portrait

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Threats to lemurs

All lemur species are endemic to Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and a global “hotspot” of biodiversity. However, these unique primates are under threat from habitat loss and hunting, and recent assessments have found that an alarming 91% of lemur species should be placed in the IUCN Red List threatened categories. This makes lemurs the world’s most endangered mammal group.

One of the greatest threats to lemurs is widespread deforestation. Decades of logging, mining and agriculture have already destroyed 90% of Madagascar’s forests, confining lemurs to the remaining fragments. In recent years, political instability has compounded the problem, forcing many local people to turn to illegal logging and hunting to survive.

Photo of brown lemur on a tree trunk

The brown lemur, listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN

According to Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a local primatologist, “If continued at this rate of deforestation, we can say that within 20 to 25 years there will be no more forest and thus no more lemurs.”

Lemur conservation strategy

To tackle the issues facing these charismatic primates, the world’s leading primate experts came together this month to draw up a three-year strategy for lemur conservation. This strategy contains 30 action plans for the 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation, and it aims to help with fundraising for individual projects.

According to Dr Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, there are three main actions which will be most effective for lemur conservation in the field: “First working on grassroots projects with local communities so people can make a difference for themselves, secondly supporting eco-tourism projects and thirdly establishing research stations as a permanent facility to protect against loggers and hunters.”

Photo of Verreaux's sifaka about to leap from tree

Like many other lemurs, Verreaux’s sifaka is threatened by habitat loss and hunting

Benjamin Andriamihaja of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments said, “We try to fund activities that generate revenues, like planting beans, rearing pigs and chickens or developing fish farming, so that peasants stop destroying the forest.”

Hard work is yet to come

Speaking about the new strategy for lemur conservation, Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said, “The fact is that if we don’t act now we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time in two centuries. The importance of the projects we’ve outlined in this document simply cannot be overstated.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young

The Alaotran gentle lemur has a very restricted range and specialised habitat, putting it at high risk of extinction

However, he said that he was an optimist and would not give up on any species of lemur, adding that, “This document shows how well people can work together when species are on the brink. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here but the hard work is yet to come.”

 

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Furry lemurs ‘could be wiped out within 20 years’.

Find out more about Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands.

View more photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 13
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Endangered Species of the Week: Pink pigeon

Photo of pink pigeon, side profile

Pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri)

Species: Pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: In the 1980s, a tiny grove of cedar trees which housed the entire wild population of pink pigeons became known as ‘Pigeon Wood’.

Also known as the Mauritius pink pigeon, the pink pigeon is a rare endemic bird found only on the island of Mauritius and the adjacent Ile aux Aigrettes. As its name suggests, the pink pigeon has a pink head, neck and breast, although its back is brown and it has a reddish-brown tail. This species breeds in most months of the year, with both adults helping to raise the brood of two chicks. The pink pigeon feeds on buds, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds of both native and introduced plants. Although this pigeon originally inhabited native evergreen forest, it is now mainly found among non-native trees such as the Japanese red cedar.

The pink pigeon underwent a dramatic decline in the last century due to severe deforestation combined with predation by introduced mammals such as mongooses, rats and cats. Cyclones are also a potential threat to this rare bird and can destroy its nest sites. By the early 1990s, the situation for the pink pigeon had become critical, with just ten individuals left in the wild. Fortunately, intensive conservation efforts have rescued this endemic bird from the brink of extinction, with a captive breeding programme increasing the wild population to over 350 individuals today. Other efforts to protect this species include habitat restoration, predator control and providing supplementary food. Although the pink pigeon still requires continued management if it is to survive, the miraculous recovery of this species is considered to be a great conservation success story.

 

Find out more about the pink pigeon and its conservation at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust – Mauritius pink pigeon.

Read more about conservation on Mauritius at the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

You can also find out more about the wildlife of Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands on the ARKive Indian Ocean islands page.

See images and videos of the pink pigeon on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 27
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ARKive Geographic: Indian Ocean islands

Fed up of the lack of sun? In need of a holiday? Let ARKive transport you off to the wonderful islands of the Indian Ocean with our new topic page.  From the coral reefs of the Maldives to the unique wildlife of Madagascar, the islands of the Indian Ocean boast a wide range of beautiful habitats and fascinating species.  To get you started, here is a taster of a few of the unusual endemic species which call the islands of the Indian Ocean home.

The Maldives is just one of the island nations featured on the Indian Ocean islands topic page

A hedgehog? A shrew?

Madagascar, made popular by the hit DreamWorks film of the same name, is the fourth biggest island in the world and boasts a wide range of endemic species. The ring-tailed lemur, the fossa and the aye-aye are among the more well-known species which inhabit this island, but there are also many other less well known but interesting critters. An example of such a species is the lowland streaked tenrec, an insectivore which looks like a cross between a shrew and a hedgehog. It is not just the appearance of tenrecs which is unusual – they are also the only mammal to communicate using a technique called stridulation. Stridulation is when animals communicate by rubbing two body parts together. In the case of the tenrec, it produces a high-pitched ultrasound by rubbing together specialised quills on its back.

Tenrecs only exist in Madagascar

A tree that bleeds?

The most distinctive plant on Socotra, an island located in the north-western Indian Ocean, is probably the dragon’s blood tree.  This species gets its name from the dark red resin it naturally exudes, known as ‘dragon’s blood’, a substance which has been highly prized since ancient times. This resin has been used to colour wool, decorate houses and pottery, and for many medicinal purposes.

The bizarre shape of the dragon’s blood tree helps it to survive in often arid conditions

From the brink of extinction

A bird from Mauritius which seemed to be following the same fate as the dodo was the Mauritius kestrel. However, a world-renowned conservation programme rescued it from the brink of extinction. Once widespread across Mauritius, by 1974 the population of this species only numbered six individuals, two of which were in captivity. An extremely successful reintroduction programme, supported by the Government of Mauritius, the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust International (now known as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust), the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Peregrine Fund, led to a spectacular recovery, with the bird being downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Released Mauritius kestrel individuals show a greater tolerance for degraded habitats and open areas

Pollinating bat

Endemic to the islands of Anjouan and Moheli in the Comoros archipelago, Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the largest bats in existence, with an average wingspan of 1.4 m! This species does not use echolocation, but instead locates fruit with its well-developed vision and sense of smell. Due to the Livingstone’s flying fox’s diet of fruit and flowers, it plays an important role as a pollinator and seed dispersal agent.

The Livingstone’s flying fox is one of the most threatened bat species

Minute marvel

From one of the largest to one of the smallest, the Gardiner’s tree frog is one of the tiniest frogs in the world, growing to a maximum length of only 11 mm. Endemic to the Seychelles, the nocturnal Gardiner’s tree frog forages for small invertebrates at night. Unlike most frogs, which lay their eggs in water, this frog lays its eggs in small clumps on moist ground. The young then hatch from these eggs as fully formed froglets, not tadpoles.

The Seychelles has the highest number of endemic amphibians in the world

If you want to find out more about the different islands these species inhabit, or if you just fancy a quick trip to paradise, don’t forget to check out our Indian Ocean islands page.

The Seychelles are composed of 115 islands

Jemma Pealing, ARKive Researcher

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