Some of the world's top experts in lemurs have
sounded the alarm 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
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 bush meat hunting by impoverished local people, the scientists said.
Extinctions could begin soon
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.
fish is a healthy choice. But you may be eating fish in danger of extinction
The rarest species, the northern sportive
lemur, is down to 50 individuals in one or two tiny forest fragments, he said.
Expansion of ecotourism
"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 cover the cost.
The scientists said they are appealing to
foreign governments and private sources to fund the preservation bid.
politics be the cause?
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.
animals should be extinct?
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.
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% 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.
Picture: Lemurs from Shutterstock
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