Mar 28

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

Dec 29
Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) photo

Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)

Species: Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)

 Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Barbary macaque is the only primate, apart from humans, to live in Europe, and the only macaque to live outside of Asia.

The Barbary macaque can be found in Algeria, Morocco, and Gibraltar. These large monkeys are highly social and live in troops of 12 to 60. In an unusual mating system, females may mate with all male members of the troop. This means that males can never be sure of paternity and encourages all males to play with, groom and protect the young troop members.

Barbary macaques were once found throughout North Africa but now only exist in small areas. This species is threatened by habitat loss from logging and human settlements, as well as hunting, forest fires, livestock grazing and drought. Seen as a symbol of Gibraltar and valued as a tourist attraction, these macaques are given some protection. There are plans to reintroduce these monkeys to national parks in Libya and Tunisia. Active and effective conservation policies are needed to protect this charismatic species.

Find out more about the Barbary macaque on the Natural History Museum website.

See images and videos of the Barbary macaque on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Nov 14

The world population of mountain gorillas has risen significantly in recent years, according to a new census released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Photo of mountain gorilla infant

The census, carried out in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, found over 400 gorillas living in 36 distinct social groups. This brings the total world population of mountain gorillas to 880, an increase of over 10% since 2010.

According to David Greer, WWF’s African Great Apes Programme Manager, “Mountain gorillas are the only great ape experiencing a population increase. This is largely due to intensive conservation efforts and successful community engagement.”

Photo of silverback mountain gorilla resting with group

Mountain gorilla conservation is now balanced against the needs of local people, for example by tackling illegal firewood collection in gorilla habitat by providing communities with alternative energy sources.

Mountain gorillas have only survived because of conservation. Protected areas are better managed and resourced than they have ever been, and our work is a lot more cross-cutting to address threats – we don’t just work with the animals in the national parks, but also with the people,” said Drew McVey, Species Programme Manager at WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback, portrait

Threatened subspecies

The mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei, is a Critically Endangered subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes. In addition to the population at Bwindi, a second mountain gorilla population is found in the Virunga Massif, a range of extinct volcanoes that spans the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

The Virunga population has also increased in the last decade, but the two populations do not interbreed and both remain under threat from deforestation, disease, regional conflict, poaching, and snares set for other animals. There is also concern that proposed oil exploration in the Virunga National Park could bring new problems for gorillas and other wildlife in an area already beset by conflict.

Photo of guard showing all the animal traps collected within two months in Virunga National Park, habitat of the mountain gorilla

Guard showing animal traps collected within two months in the Virunga National Park

More people in Virunga would likely lead to an increase in deforestation, illegal hunting and more snares in the forest,” said Greer. “At least seven Virunga mountain gorillas have been caught in snares this year and two did not survive. The gorilla population remains fragile and could easily slip into decline if conservation management was to be disregarded in the pursuit of oil money by elites.”

Tourist draw

Although the increase in gorilla numbers in recent decades is encouraging, experts say that it should not be taken as a sign that the fight to save the species has been won.

Gorilla populations are incredibly fragile and sensitive to environmental change. There are only two populations, so disease could easily wipe out an entire population,” said McVey. He added that, “Mountain gorillas are only found in protected areas, and outside these areas there are more than 600 people per square kilometre, so there is immense pressure to secure their habitat and pay their way.”

Photo of juvenile mountain gorilla

Many mountain gorilla groups have become accustomed to humans and are a major draw for tourists. Revenue from tourism is in turn helping to fund the protection of parks and is being reinvested into local communities.

The amount of revenue and jobs that gorillas generate is so important for these areas that are so desperately poor,” McVey said. “People really see gorillas as important for the national and local economies, and a portion of this goes back to conservation efforts and the local community.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Mountain gorilla population grows and The Guardian – Mountain gorilla numbers rise by 10%.

Find out more about gorilla conservation at the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

View photos and videos of mountain gorillas on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 13

The discovery of previously unknown populations of the greater bamboo lemur has led to this species being removed from the list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, according to the Aspinall Foundation.

Greater bamboo lemur image

Greater bamboo lemur feeding on bamboo

Back from the brink

These recent discoveries, in combination with targeted conservation efforts, have boosted the known population of the greater bamboo lemur to more than 300 individuals. Given that the species was believed to be extinct in the 1970s, this news has delighted conservationists, particularly Damian Aspinall, head of the Aspinall Foundation, a charity which initiated a species survival plan for the threatened lemur.

Madagascar is the number one priority in the world for the conservation of primate diversity and the greater bamboo lemur was, until recently, a symbol of the threats facing this remarkable island,” he said. “Now the species symbolises what can be achieved with vision, passion and tireless commitment to locally relevant conservation.”

Forest destruction image

Slash-and-burn in greater bamboo lemur habitat

Not out of the woods

There is no doubt that these latest discoveries mark a step in the right direction for the future survival of the greater bamboo lemur, the largest of Madagascar’s endemic bamboo lemurs. However, the species is not out of the woods yet.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, more than 90% of Madagascar’s lemur species are considered to be at risk of extinction, and the greater bamboo lemur is no exception. It is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with the destruction of its montane rainforest habitat in eastern Madagascar cited as a major threat.

The greater bamboo lemur, or ‘panda lemur’ as it is sometimes known, is one of three species of bamboo lemur in Madagascar. While all three species rely on bamboo to survive, they are able to co-exist by having specialised feeding habits, each eating different species of bamboo, or different parts of the plant. Incredibly, the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) is able to eat the cyanide-containing leaf bases, shoots and piths of new-growth giant bamboo, and on a daily basis ingests enough cyanide to kill three men.

Greater bamboo lemur image

The greater bamboo lemur is one of three bamboo lemur species in Madagascar

Madagascar – from carnage to conservation

Habitat loss remains a key threat to many of Madagascar’s endemic primates, with the vast majority of the island’s forests having been cleared and destroyed for subsistence agriculture. However, the good news is that conservation is now moving to the fore and becoming a focus for the country.

Thanks to involvement by scientists and conservationists, funding from donors, and leadership in local communities as well as the national government, Madagascar is turning into a model for conservation. Its deforestation rate has decreased significantly since the early 1990s, creating a glimmer of hope for the greater bamboo lemur and all other Madagascan endemics.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Greater bamboo lemur removed from ‘most endangered primates’ list.

Learn more about the latest list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates.

Find out more about the greater bamboo lemur on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

 

Oct 15

The world’s 25 most endangered primate species have been revealed in a new report released today at the UN’s 11th meeting of the Conferences of the Parties (COP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Northern sportive lemur, portrait photo

Northern sportive lemur, one of the world’s most endangered primates

The report, entitled ‘Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014’, lists the primate species which experts believe are most in danger of extinction.

Updated every two years and now in its seventh edition, the list has been compiled by the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and the International Primatological Society (IPS), in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF).

Under increasing threat

Of the 25 primate species highlighted in the report, nine are from Asia, six from Madagascar, five from Africa and five from South America. Madagascar tops the list in terms of individual countries, having 6 out of the 25 most endangered primate species.

Photo of a young male variegated spider monkey in captivity

The variegated spider monkey is under threat from habitat loss and hunting

Once again, this report shows that the world’s primates are under increasing threat from human activities. Whilst we haven’t lost any primate species yet during this century, some of them are in very dire straits,” said Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation.

In particular the lemurs are now one of the world’s most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar. A similar crisis is happening in South-East Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction.”

An assessment carried out earlier this year by the IUCN found that 91% of Madagascar’s lemurs are threatened with extinction, giving one of the highest levels of threat recorded for any group of vertebrates.

Photo of male cao-vit crested gibbon

The cao-vit crested gibbon has an estimated population of just 110 individuals

Primates in peril

Of the world’s 633 primate species and subspecies whose conservation statuses are known, over half are currently classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The main threats to primates include habitat destruction, particularly the clearing and burning of tropical forests, as well as hunting for food and the illegal wildlife trade.

Conservationists hope that the new report will help to highlight the plight of some of the most endangered primates. For example, one of the species on the list, the pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier, was only known from museum specimens until a few individuals were captured in 2008. Sadly, its few remaining populations are fragmented, isolated and under threat from human encroachment and armed conflict.

Photo of lesser spectral tarsier in the hands of a researcher

The pygmy or lesser spectral tarsier is one of the world’s least known primates

Hope for the future

Despite the gloomy assessment, experts are hopeful that conservation measures for primates can be successful. The efforts of dedicated primate conservationists, together with considerable public support and media interest, mean that no primate species have yet become extinct in either the 20th or 21st centuries.

Several primates that previously appeared on the list of 25 most endangered have now been removed due to their improved conservation statuses, although not all are out of danger. These include the lion-tailed macaque of southwest India, and the greater bamboo lemur of Madagascar.

Photo of greater bamboo lemur on tree branch

The greater bamboo lemur has now been taken off the list of 25 most endangered primates

According to Dr Russell Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International, primates play a key role in their tropical forest habitats, acting as seed dispersers and helping to maintain forest diversity.

Amazingly, we continue to discover new species every year since 2000. What is more, primates are increasingly becoming a major ecotourism attraction, and primate-watching is growing in interest and serving as a key source of livelihood in many local communities living around protected areas in which these species occur,” he says.

Primates are our closest living relatives and probably the best flagship species for tropical rain forests, since more than 90 percent of all known primates occur in this endangered biome…  It is increasingly being recognised that forests make a major contribution in terms of ecosystem services for people, providing drinking water, food and medicines.”

Read the full report at Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012-2014.

View photos and videos of primates on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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