Richard Branson's pet lemur project won't help save wildlife in Madagascar
Commentary by Rhett A. Butler,
April 19, 2011

Richard Branson's plan to introduce lemurs on one of his private islands in the Caribbean is a terrible idea if his aim is really to protect the primates from extinction.

Beyond the much-discussed ecological impact of bringing in non-native primates, Branson's scheme risks undermining conservation efforts where lemurs actually exist in the wild: Madagascar.

As reported by the Associated Press, Branson will start with ring-tailed lemurs, a species that is commonly kept in captivity and isn't particularly endangered in Madagascar. He will then move on to other, yet-to-be-determined species.

Ring-tailed lemur in Madagascar.

Branson's scheme will only involve lemurs presently kept in captivity, yet some of the most threatened lemurs survive only in the wild and are prohibited from export.
But if Branson really wants to save lemurs, why doesn't he start by helping efforts to protect them in Madagascar, a poor country that has a wealth of species beyond lemurs. Madagascar's extensive park system is globally recognized, yet it is struggling due to a political crisis that recently passed the two-year mark. Madagascar's parks — an the communities that surround them — are sustained by tourist revenue, which has been diminished by instability to the point where former nature guides in some areas are now working in industries that destroy forests: mining, animal trafficking, and illegal logging.

Couldn't Branson's concern be put to better use by applying his marketing acumen to helping Madagascar rebuild a sustainable tourism industry, one that helps maintain its parks and protect wildlife in their natural habitat? Madagascar's park system is poised for innovation. For example, the Centre ValBio near Ranomafana National Park promises to become a research and education hub when when it opens next year. It will create local jobs and bring tourists interested in conservation. Branson could help leverage opportunities like these to improve the lot of the Malagasy people as well as the island's spectacular wildlife. An exclusive lemur reserve on the 170-acre (69-hectare) Moskito Island — which encourages people not to visit Madagascar — won't do that.

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Commentary by Rhett A. Butler, (April 19, 2011). Richard Branson's pet lemur project won't help save wildlife in Madagascar.

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