Leading conservationists recently gathered at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission to review the conservation status of the world’s 103 lemur species – the most endangered primate group in the world.
The results of the conference have been announced, highlighting that many lemur species are on the very brink of extinction due primarily to habitat loss, and in need of urgent and effective protection measures.
The conservation status of 91 per cent of the world’s lemur species have now been upgraded to either ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – an indicator of rampant forest loss which additionally endangers vital ecosystem services that support Madagascar’s people.
Of the world’s 103 different species of lemurs, 23 are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’, 52 are ‘Endangered, 19 are ‘Vulnerable’ and three are ‘Near Threatened’. Just three lemur species are listed as ‘Least Concern’. A previous assessment carried out in 2005 as part of a Global Mammal Assessment identified 10 species as ‘Critically Endangered’, 21 as ‘Endangered’, and 17 as ‘Vulnerable’, already a very high number. However, given the recent increases in the number of new species and the fact that the level of threat has increased over the past three years, the experts decided to carry out a reassessment of Madagascar’s lemur fauna.
Lemurs are in danger of becoming extinct by destruction of their tropical forest habitat on their native island of Madagascar, off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, where political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a more serious threat than previously imagined.
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, is a world leading primatologist and is on the organising committee for the conference in his role as advisor on Madagascar’s primates and the Red List authority for the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Primate Specialist Group.
He explained the significance of the lemur assessments: “The results of our review workshop this week have been quite a shock as they show that Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world. As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
Among the most spectacular species of lemurs assessed as ‘Critically Endangered’ this week is the indri, the largest of the living lemurs and a species of symbolic value comparable to that of China’s giant panda. Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, at 30 grams is the world’s smallest primate, and the blue-eyed black lemur, the only primate species other than humans that has blue eyes. Probably the rarest lemur is the northern sportive lemur of which there are only 18 known individuals left.