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UK authorizes guns for Madagascar despite threat of lemur extinctions

Red-ruffed lemur, a commonly hunted but critically endangered lemur species. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Britain has authorized the export of thousands of guns to Madagascar, according to, sparking concerns that the firearms could be used for hunting endangered lemurs.

Data from the UK government’s Strategic Export Controls website shows that licenses for the export of 3,174 guns to Madagascar were granted between August 2011 and June 2012. Most of the weapons were for anti-piracy activities, but 190 sporting guns — guns specifically intended for hunting — and 200 combat shotguns were not designated for anti-piracy activities.

Lemurs are found naturally only on Madagascar. In 2012 the International Union for Conservation of Nature determined that over 90 percent of the more than 100 lemur species are threatened with extinction. “As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates,” said Christoph Schwitzer, the Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens and a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, in a statement at the time of the announcement.

Gun ownership has been traditionally low in Madagascar, but a rise in recent years has been accompanied by a sharp increase in gun violence, especially in Southern Madagascar. Since the 2009 coup d’état hunting lemurs with guns for the commercial bushmeat trade has increased such that hunting now constitutes a major threat to lemurs’ continued survival. Researchers from Bangor University in Wales and the Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy found that “illegal hunting of protected species is becoming a major conservation issue” in Madagascar. Much of the hunting is being done with guns: the researchers report that “Evidence from our local monitors suggests that a large number of the Indri [the largest living species of lemur] were killed by a few individuals who own guns and kill lemurs to sell.”

Weapons for Madagascar in Accepted UK Arms Export Permits
Weapons for Madagascar in Accepted UK Arms Export Permits. Note: The data above are for licences – not for actual export deliveries, although there is no reason to believe that most would not be delivered. Source.

In December 2012, the Arms Export Controls Committee of the House of Commons met with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and discussed the committee’s concern (1:48.37-1:51.46) that arms authorized for export to Madagascar for anti-piracy activities might be diverted to non-intended uses. MP Bob Stewart described the quantity of arms involved as enough to “make a pretty good army”. In his response, Mr. Hague failed to provide adequate reassurance that arms are not leaking from armories where they are being held or falling into the hands of arms traffickers.

The recent research article on lemur hunting concluded that “If further extinctions [of lemurs] are to be avoided, urgent action is needed to reduce hunting”. The continual increase of guns in Madagascar would be a good place to begin, starting with the UK stopping gun exports to Madagascar.

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