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Good news for the rarest lemur

A scientific expedition has found one of the Madagascar’s rarest lemurs in a region where it was once thought to be extinct, report conservationists.

With help from local communities, scientists spotted the Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) at 11 sites in Ankeniheny-Zahamena, a remote expanse of rainforest northeast of Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo. Ankeniheny-Zahamena will soon be declared the Indian Ocean island’s newest protected area.

The species, which feeds almost exclusively on Giant bamboo, was believed to be extinct prior to its rediscovery in the 1980s. Its population is estimated 100-300 in the wild.

In search of Prolemur simus with Mitsinjo. Photos by Rhett A. Butler

The finding is a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for conservation in Madagascar, which has been undermined by organized plundering of national parks by loggers, a sharp decline in tourist visits, and loss of international funding in the aftermath of a March coup that toppled President Marc Ravalomanana.

“This is an extraordinary success for our efforts to save the species,” said Dr Jonah Ratsimbazafy of GERP, a Malagasy primate organization. “It should put nature conservation back on the agenda in Madagascar, after recent lawlessness and a surge in illegal logging within national parks, which risked annihilating previous conservation successes”.

The survey, which was supported by local communities that will help in the management and conservation of the new protected area, was conducted by the Aspinall Foundation; Conservation International; Association Mitsinjo, a community-based conservation organization that trains guides and runs reforestation projects; and GERP.

“If you want to succeed in finding an animal as rare and secretive as the Greater Bamboo Lemur, you have to work with the local communities who have an intimate knowledge of the forest they live in,” Rainer Dolch, of Association Mitsinjo, said in a statement.

“Searching for the world’s rarest and most elusive lemur in this remote forest was a big gamble” added Damian Aspinall of the Aspinall Foundation, “but sometimes that’s what it takes to help save a species from the brink of extinction.”

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