Lemurs Risk Extinction In 20 Years As Loggers Remove Madagascar’s Remaining Forests

Many lemurs are at a high risk of extinction. Earlier this month, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a new three-year conservation plan that includes 30 different plans for preserving the increasingly endangered species.

Lemurs are the world’s most endangered primate and indeed the world’s most endangered mammal group. They are found only on the island nation of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

IUCN currently recognizes 104 species of lemurs. Almost half, 49, are endangered. Almost one-quarter, 24, are critically endangered and highly likely to vanish first. And 20 species are threatened.

In other words, a stunning 94 percent of the lemur species are at risk of extinction.

The great danger is legal and illegal logging. Trees aren’t a renewable resource at the rate they are being removed. About 70 percent of the forest was gone by 1925. Half of the rest has been lost since then.

One problem is that old-growth forest is removed and then replaced by non-native eucalyptus trees which are grown for charcoal. These trees provide no value to wildlife but are needed for fuel in a country where there are widespread areas of rural poverty with no source of electricity.

In fact the forests are being removed at such a rate that some small, rare species will likely be extinct before they are described. The mouse lemur genus is one example. Researchers continue to find new species or subspecies of the small, nocturnal, and somewhat secretive animals.

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gray mouse lemur sleeping in a forest in Madagascar

A report in UK’s Telegraph said that 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests are now gone. And the lemurs can’t live without a home.

Based on the current rate of deforestation, their expert said that in 20 to 25 years, the remaining forest will vanish and the lemurs will be extinct.

The IUCN report also said that people are again hunting and eating the lemurs, a practice that was outlawed by Madagascar in 1964.

When I visited in 2007, it seemed clear that eating lemurs had long since passed from fashion. Many wild lemurs were quite bold and unafraid of humans, at least in the area of parks and reserves.

lemurs risk extinction Madagascar
a wild baby ring-tailed lemur confronts the camera

However, there was a revolution in Madagascar in 2009, and I’ve heard conflicting reports since then. According to some, the new government is unable or unwilling to stop the illegal logging of forests or to attack rural poverty.

Therefore, it isn’t beyond belief that some locals may again be hunting and eating the lemurs for food.

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lemurs rely on the forest to survive

The IUCN projects will total less than $7.3 million over the next three years. It seems a small price to pay to reduce the lemurs’ risk of extinction.

[all lemur photos taken in wild in Madagascar by Elaine Radford]