Population of critically endangered lemurs discovered in Madagascar
July 22, 2008

Scientists in Madagascar have discovered a population of greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus), a critically endangered species of primate, in an area more than 400 kilometers away from its only known refuge, reports Conservation International.

The finding, to be published in "Lemur News," the newsletter of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, raises hope that the species can be saved from extinction.

"The greater bamboo lemur is a unique species and the only member of an entire primate genus, making it probably the most endangered primate genus in the world, so this discovery is a real blessing for our efforts to save it from extinction," said Conservation International President Russell Mittermeier, the chairman of the Primate Specialist Group.

The Greater Bamboo Lemur lives in a maze of bamboo in the rainforests of Madagascar. These primates are the only lemurs being able to crack the hard fibers of giant bamboo that are their favored food. Photos by Jonathan Linus Fiely.
The lemurs were spotted in the Torotorofotsy wetlands of east central Madagascar. Researchers estimate there may by 30-40 in the area, adding to the 100 known to exist in Ranomafana.

"Finding the extremely rare Prolemur simus in a place where nobody expected it was probably more exciting than discovering a new lemur species," said Edward Louis of Henry Doorly Zoo, who coordinated the joint research mission that located the new population.

"Our hope is that the presence of these critically threatened creatures will increase efforts to protect their habitat and keep them alive," added Rainer Dolch of MITSINJO, the organization that manages the Torotorofotsy site.

The greater bamboo lemur is one of three species of bamboo lemur in Madagascar — the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) and the gentle bamboo lemur (H. griseus) are the others. These three species coexist by having specialized bamboo-feeding habits. The golden bamboo lemur, apparently tolerant of high concentrations of cyanide, eats the cyanide-containing leaf bases, shoots, and piths of new growth giant bamboo. The amount of cyanide consumed daily by this species is enough to kill three men. The greater bamboo lemur eats the mature pith of the same bamboo, while the gentle bamboo lemur eats the leaves of another bamboo species.

Bamboo lemurs, like many of Madagascar's endemic species, are today threatened by habitat loss — the vast majority of Madagascar's forests have been cleared for subsistence agriculture. Nevertheless, in less than a generation Madagascar has gone from being an environmental pariah to a widely admired model for conservation thanks to involvement by scientists and conservationists, funding from donors, and leadership in local communities and the national government. The country's deforestation rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s.

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