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.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs