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

Mar 28
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In the News: Two new mouse lemur species discovered in Madagascar

Scientists have discovered two new species of mouse lemur in Madagascar, bringing the total number of these tiny primate species to 20.

Photo of grey mouse-lemur

The grey mouse-lemur, one of 20 mouse lemur species currently known to science

The mouse lemurs were collected during field surveys in 2003 and 2007, and genetic analysis has now shown them to be distinct species. In a paper recently published in the International Journal of Primatology, the scientists named the new species the Marohita mouse lemur (Microcebus marohita) and the Anosy mouse lemur (Microcebus tanosi).

The Marohita mouse lemur is named after the forest in which it was collected, while the Anosy mouse lemur is named after its distribution in the Anosy region in southeast Madagascar.

Miniscule primates

Mouse lemurs are some of the smallest primates in the world. All are nocturnal and live in Madagascar’s forests, where they feed on a range of insects, fruit, flowers, sap and even small vertebrates, such as frogs and geckos.

Photo of grey mouse-lemur sniffing flowering plant

Although one of the largest mouse lemurs, the grey mouse-lemur is still one of the world’s smallest primates

The two new species are unusually large for mouse lemurs, with the Marohita mouse lemur reaching lengths of 28 centimetres and weights of about 78 grams. This makes it the largest of the known mouse lemurs. At 27 centimetres and around 50 grams, the Anosy mouse lemur becomes the second largest mouse lemur known to science.

New species discoveries

The rate at which new lemur species have been discovered in Madagascar has dramatically increased in the past decade. The mouse lemurs are one of the most species-rich groups of lemurs, but these tiny primates look so similar that genetic analysis is often the only way to tell them apart.

I would say that in general, it is highly unusual to describe new species of primates in this age of global travel and consequent access to remote areas of the planet,” said Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center and one of the authors of the paper. “That said, the number of described lemur species has more than tripled in the last 10 years. A large number of these new species have been mouse lemurs.”

Photo of Goodman's mouse lemurs in nest

Goodman’s mouse lemur was only discovered in 2005

Mouse lemurs under threat

Like many of Madagascar’s lemurs, the new mouse lemurs are likely to be under threat from human activities. Since the Marohita mouse lemur was first collected, much of the forest it inhabits has been cleared, and the scientists have classified the species as Endangered. The status of the Anosy mouse lemur is not yet known, but it is likely that it will also be classified as Endangered.

Further field studies have been recommended to assess the distribution and population sizes of the newly described lemurs, so that appropriate conservation measures can be put in place to protect them.

Conserving lemurs

The researchers point out the importance of identifying lemur species if they are to be protected. “Knowing exactly how many species we have is essential for determining which areas to target for conservation,” said Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center, one of the authors of the paper.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

According to Yoder, “I suspect that there are even more mouse lemur species out there to be found… Mouse lemurs are morphologically cryptic, they are tiny, they are nocturnal, and they occur in remote places. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the harder we look, the more species we will find.”

As well as identifying and protecting new lemur species, it will also be important to continue working towards the conservation of all lemurs in Madagascar. Public awareness will be an important part of this.

I have found that the Malagasy people take great pride in their lemurs, as soon as they understand that Madagascar is unique in having lemurs, and also, that certain lemurs are specific only to a particular area,” said Yoder. “Also, and obviously, the government needs to participate in protecting the forests, and in providing economic alternatives to slash and burn agriculture to the Malagasy people.”

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – 2 ‘giant’ yet tiny mouse lemurs identified in Madagascar and at Scientific American Blogs – Two new species of mouse lemur found in Madagascar.

Find out more about newly discovered species on ARKive.

View photos and videos of mouse lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 16
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In the News: Lemurs heading towards extinction

The lemurs of Madagascar are far more threatened than previously thought, according to a new assessment for the IUCN.

Photo of ring-tailed lemur with young on back

Ring-tailed lemur

The assessment, being carried out by scientists from the Primate Specialist Group, aims to decide how lemurs should be classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has found that over 90% of lemur species should be placed in the Red List threatened categories.

Most threatened mammal group

The previous IUCN lemur assessment, published in 2008, classified 8 lemur species as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered and 14 as Vulnerable. However, the new assessment shows a worrying increase in threat levels, with 23 lemurs qualifying as Critically Endangered, 52 as Endangered and 19 as Vulnerable.

That means that 91% of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” said Dr Russ Mittermeier, Chairman of the Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

The scientists have also confirmed that there are more lemur species than previously thought. Detailed study and genetic testing have revealed a number of cases where lemurs have been presumed to be from the same species, but in fact are from different ones. The 103rd species, a new type of mouse lemur, was identified during this assessment but has yet to be named.

Lack of law enforcement

The main threats to lemurs come from widespread deforestation and hunting. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, repeated evidence of illegal logging has been found, while hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new and increasing threat. A decline in traditional taboos is also likely to be contributing to hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Photo of silky sifaka pair in tree

Silky sifakas

Although elections have been promised in the country, several scheduled election dates have already passed, and a lack of law enforcement is only exacerbating the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife.

Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Dr Mittermeier. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young on back

Alaotran gentle lemur

Around 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have already been lost, and lemurs and other endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened within the remaining forest fragments.

The latest assessments of the conservation status of lemurs will be reviewed and confirmed by other experts before forming part of the IUCN’s next global Red List update.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Lemurs sliding towards extinction.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 26
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The ARKive Team’s Favourite Species – Michelle Lindley

The mischievous kea won over Eleanor Sans last week, but will this week’s species be just as rebellious or slightly more reserved?

Michelle Lindley – ARKive Research Manager

Favourite species: Indri

Why? Madagascar was always on my list of places I wanted to visit and last year I was lucky enough to go. Watching Madagascar’s largest lemur, the indri, in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park was fantastic. Listening to the family groups calling to each other in the mornings was one of the best wildlife experiences. The eerie sounds they make are amazing, and watching them leap from branch to branch was unbelievable.

Favourite indri image on ARKive:

Indri image

The indri is one of the world's most threatened primates

The indri is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List. Threats to this species include habitat fragmentation due to slash-and-burn agriculture and forests being cut down for fuel and timber. The indri is also killed for food in certain areas of Madagascar.

See more photos and videos of the indri.

Jan 3
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Spotlight on: Lemurs

Endemic to the island of Madagascar, lemurs are a charismatic group of primates comprised of nearly 90 living species. Lemurs range in size from the small pygmy mouse lemur to the impressive indri, and fill nearly every niche the diverse country of Madagascar has to offer. However, deforestation has led to a decrease in lemur populations and consequent listing of several species on the IUCN Red List.

Pygmy mouse lemur

The pygmy mouse lemur is one of the smallest primates in the world

What makes lemurs special?

Lemurs are unique to Madagascar. Having evolved on an island, lemurs were isolated from human contact up until 2,000 years ago. After humans arrived, three lemur families went extinct; however, there are still five families remaining. The lemurs that remain on the island have adapted well to their environment, and display a wide variety of diets and behaviors.

Diademed sifaka in habitat

A diademed sifaka in its natural habitat

To the trees!

Lemurs are mainly an arboreal species, which means that they live in trees. Their hands and feet are specially adapted to grip onto branches, and their long sturdy tails provide balance. All lemurs except for the largest species, the indri, have long tails. However, unlike monkeys their tails are not prehensile, meaning they cannot grip things. Even though lemurs are mainly arboreal, many of the larger species travel along the ground as well. The Verreaux’s sifaka is famous for the way it leaps across the ground. You can watch a video of a Verreaux’s sifaka “dancing”!

Verreaux's sifaka 'dancing'

Verreaux’s sifaka displaying the ground leaping behavior

Black-and-white ruffed lemur

Black-and-white ruffed lemur relaxing in a tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemur diversity

Since lemurs occupy all different kinds of habitats across Madagascar, there is a large amount of diversity. The five extant, or living, families of lemurs are Cheirogaleidae (mouse and dwarf lemurs), Daubentoniidae (aye-aye), Indriidae (sifakas and woolly lemurs), Lemuridae (true lemurs), and Lepilemuridae (sportive lemurs). There is a large range of physical appearances among lemurs as well. The Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur bears a resemblance to a flying squirrel, while the large silky sifaka looks like it would be at home with the monkeys of the Amazon.

Aye-aye probing rotton wood for grubs

The aye-aye was originally classified as a rodent, as no one had ever seen a primate look like this!

Threats to lemurs

The main threat that lemurs face today is loss of habitat due to deforestation. Since lemurs only occur on the island of Madagascar, it is important to preserve the forests there that house the unique animals. Conversion of wooded areas to fields for agriculture is the main reason for Madagascar’s deforestation; unfortunately, this deforestation can also lead to the erosion of land, adding to habitat destruction. Current conservation efforts for lemurs include preservation of habitat, though humans continually expand into the lemurs’ natural habitat due to a need for resources.

To check out some of the lemurs ARKive has to offer, flip through the MyARKive Lemur Scrapbook! Learn all about how special lemurs are, and how important it is to ensure the conservation of them.

You can also read ARKive’s recent blog article about a decline in taboos putting lemurs at risk.

Christin Knesel, Intern, Wildscreen USA

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