November 13, 2012
Thought to be extinct as recently as the 1970s, scientific research has turned up several populations in recent years. Those discoveries, combined with conservation efforts, have boosted the known population to more than 300 greater bamboo lemurs.
Damian Aspinall, head of the Aspinall Foundation, says that the lemur's turnaround offers hope for Madagascar's other threatened species.
‘Madagascar is the number one priority in the world for the conservation of primate diversity and the greater bamboo lemur was, until recently, a symbol of the threats facing this remarkable island. Now the species symbolizes what can be achieved with vision, passion and tireless commitment to locally relevant conservation.’
Greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus). Photo by Rhett Butler.
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. The greater bamboo lemur is sometimes called the "panda lemur" for its size and bamboo-eating.
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 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 significantly since the early 1990s.