News / Science & Technology

Scientists Sound Alarm Over Lemur Extinction Threat

FILE - Ring-tailed lemurs enjoy a frozen treat on a summer's day, Ramat Gan Safari, near Tel Aviv, July 12, 2012.
FILE - Ring-tailed lemurs enjoy a frozen treat on a summer's day, Ramat Gan Safari, near Tel Aviv, July 12, 2012.
Some of the world's top experts in lemurs sounded the alarm Thursday about an imminent extinction threat to these primitive primates that live only in Madagascar and unveiled a three-year plan to try to prevent them from disappearing altogether.

Lemurs are now the world's most threatened mammal group.

Habitat destruction and fragmentation caused by illegal slash-and-burn farming, logging of rosewood and ebony trees and mining are major threats to lemurs, as is bushmeat hunting by impoverished local people, the scientists said.

A five-year political crisis in Madagascar and a broad breakdown of environmental law enforcement have worsened the situation for the roughly 100 species of lemurs, they said.

"Extinctions could begin very soon if nothing is done," said Christoph Schwitzer, head of research at the Bristol Zoological Society in Britain who led a team of 19 scientists that drafted the emergency lemur preservation plan.

The rarest species, the northern sportive lemur, is down to 50 individuals in one or two tiny forest fragments, he said.

"One cyclone or other natural event could wipe out the entire population. In fact, anybody who decides to go out lemur hunting could tip the species over the edge," Schwitzer added.

Their plan identifies 30 priority sites for lemur conservation. It calls for management of protected areas at the local level and a long-term research presence in key locations, and it advocates an expansion of ecotourism focused on lemurs to attract money to the cause.

The scientists, who presented their plan in the journal Science, argue that a significant amount of habitat could be preserved for a relatively small sum in international aid — $7.6 million — and that ecotourism could help pay for the cost.

The scientists said they are appealing to foreign governments and private sources to fund the preservation bid.

Madagascar, an Indian Ocean island off the coast of Africa that is known for its unique wildlife, has been in political turmoil for five years.

A new president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, took office in January, a month after winning the first election since a 2009 coup that plunged Madagascar into a crisis that sharply slowed economic growth and deepened poverty.

Forest habitat eliminated

Lemurs are one of the most primitive types of primate, less advanced than monkeys, apes and humans. They range in size from the one-ounce (30 gram) Madame Berthe's mouse lemur — the smallest living primate — to the 20-pound (9 kg) indri.

Arboreal creatures, they eat leaves, fruits and bugs and have long limbs, flexible toes and fingers and long noses.

They appeared early in primate evolution, about 62 million years ago, not long after the dinosaurs went extinct. More advanced primates never made it to Madagascar, allowing lemurs to thrive and evolve into many different species.

But most of Madagascar's forest land has been eliminated and 94 percent of lemur species are now considered vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

"I would certainly not want to tell my children in 10 or 20 years’ time, when they are old enough to travel to Madagascar, 'Look, this island was once inhabited by creatures called lemurs, but they have gone extinct because your dad, along with many others, was unable to avert their extinction at the time," Schwitzer said.

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Comment Sorting
by: Finean williams
February 25, 2014 6:34 PM
The human race will have yet another extinction resting on their shoulders. Now isn't that just dandy.

by: Maeda Atsukoh from: AKB, Tokyo
February 21, 2014 7:08 PM
What is wrong with extinction.
They can not live any more because they can not adopt the evironmental change, even if that change is due to human activities.
Human and human activities are part of ecosystem and extinction is necessary for the ecosystem. Thease scientists understand nothing about science.
In Response

by: Finean Williams from: SC
February 25, 2014 6:44 PM
Your kidding right? The human race has already killed of some 90% of the oceans major predators (due to shark fining) which has resulted in an explosion of overpopulation ion the ocean. Most people's response to this: oh good I'm scared of sharks. Or they simply don't care or like you they believe that in some way this is occurring naturally. Well next time why don't you think about your comments before you post them. Please and thank you.

In Response

by: Vincent from: Florida, USA
February 22, 2014 6:10 PM
Are you suggesting that the lemurs learn to use guns to combat poachers?
Do research on the affects of careless peoples' actions on the environment and how it negatively effects the ecosystem to better understand this article. For example, I hardly consider it fair for humans to jump into helicopters and shoot down entire packs wolves so the wolves will stop eating their livestock. It saves the livestock but causes overpopulation of all other naturally occurring prey species, which in turn affects the flora; eventually, this cycle circles back to the destruction of humans. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how one looks at the situation) once people realize the mistake, they're able to attempt to mend the loss by reintroducing species and carefully monitor them to bring the population back up.
The best way to further understand the impact the lemur extinction will have on the environment, aside from the: " 'Look, this island was once inhabited by creatures called lemurs, but they have gone extinct because your dad, along with many others, was unable to avert their extinction at the time," Schwitzer said," quote, would be to find out exactly how the lemurs contribute to the ecosystem of Madagascar and how their loss will affect the island.
In Response

by: Johnathan Hargrev from: USA
February 22, 2014 4:57 PM
What is wrong with extinction? Are you serious? Nothing you say can be taken seriously. The Japanese people are responsible for endangering numerous marine wildlife species. Whales, dolphins at the forefront. Your greed, your arrogance, would push them into extinction. It's a good thing that there are people who actually care about animal species, to undo the damage people like you have done.

by: Finean
February 20, 2014 9:40 PM
Where can I make a donation?

by: John from: Colville, Wa
February 20, 2014 9:22 PM
Very sad these things happen and these situations are only on the increase due to human activities. It is said that we are losing nearly 200 species a day and only human arrogance would suppose that humans will one day not be on that list. Only humans, of all species, has the ability to alter the natural cycle of earth and we fail in the most pathetic ways to care for the only place we have to live.
In Response

by: Fair Play from: MO
February 22, 2014 9:10 PM
Human over population is to blame. Lets try to control where we humans live that might help with the endangering wildlife.

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