One of the world’s biggest populations of greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus)—sometimes known as the panda lemur—has doubled in just three years, giving conservationists new hope that the species can be kept from extinction. With the recent arrival of twenty babies, a community conservation project run by the Aspinall Foundation has boosted the local population to over 100 individuals in Andriantantely, one of Madagascar’s only surviving lowland rainforests. Greater bamboo lemurs are currently categorized as Critically Endangered, though they were once believed extinct until hidden populations were uncovered in the 1980s.
“Andriantantely is a remarkably important forest in global terms,” said Tony King, the Aspinall Foundation’s Conservation Coordinator. “Almost everything in Madagascar is unique to Madagascar, and sadly almost everything in Madagascar is under threat. Lowland rainforest has already been almost completely lost, so every remaining fragment is precious. Andriantantely is one of the most precious, having survived a little longer and a little better than other forests due to local traditions held dear over generations.”
A few years ago, greater bamboo lemurs were listed as one of the world’s 25 most threatened primates, with an estimated population of less than 100 individuals. However the discovery of new populations along with effective conservation has raised that estimate to 600 today, with Andriantantely rainforest one of the most important strongholds. Greater bamboo lemurs are one of just three lemurs that survive entirely on bamboo. As the largest of these species, it’s become known affectionately as the panda lemur, since both mammals are large-bodied and share a love for fast-growing bamboo.
Greater bamboo lemur munching in Andrantantely. Photo by: Hery Randriahaingo.
Despite this good news for this species, a recent report found that lemurs are the world’s most imperiled mammals on the planet. A shocking 91 percent of the world’s over one hundred lemur species are currently considered threatened with extinction. While no lemurs have gone extinct in modern times, 17 species have vanished since humans arrived on the island. Making up a wholly distinct branch of primates, lemurs are only found on Madagascar.
“[Lemurs] represent an entirely unique lineage of primates, long isolated from the monkeys and apes that evolved on the continents,” Steig Johnson with the University of Calgary told mongabay.com last month.
In the landmark report, lemur conservationists proposed an ambitious, emergency 3-year plan to keep lemurs from vanishing in the near term by safeguarding forests and setting up community conservation programs like the one in Andriantantely. The scientists estimate that implementing the whole plan, which would cover 30 priority areas, would cost around $7.6 million.
Andriantantely rainforest is included in the report with proposals to hire a primatologist, inventory the forest for hidden lemurs as well as counting known species, raise awareness amongst locals, and implement regular forest patrols.
“The teams will patrol different areas of the Andriantantely forest for an average of 14 days per month, collecting information on lemurs in general and on endangered large diurnal lemurs in particular,” reads the proposal. “The patrol teams will simultaneously mitigate threats to lemurs and the forest by dismantling lemur traps and reporting other threats.”
In addition to greater bamboo lemurs, Andriantantely rainforest is also home to three other species of Critically Endangered lemurs: the black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), the indri (Indri indri) and the diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema).
Lemurs are threatened by massive and widespread deforestation, a worsening bushmeat trade, and political instability.
Indri in Andriantantely. Photo by: Tony King.
(02/20/2014) Due to the wonderful idiosyncrasies of evolution, there is one country on Earth that houses 20 percent of the world’s primates. More astounding still, every single one of these primates—an entire distinct family in fact—are found no-where else. The country is, of course, Madagascar and the primates in question are, of course, lemurs. But the far-flung island of Madagascar, once a safe haven for wild evolutionary experiments, has become an ecological nightmare. Overpopulation, deep poverty, political instability, slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging for lucrative woods, and a booming bushmeat trade has placed 94 percent of the world’s lemurs under threat of extinction, making this the most imperiled mammal group on the planet. But, in order to stem a rapid march toward extinction, conservationists today publicized an emergency three year plan to safeguard 30 important lemur forests in the journal Science.
(12/18/2013) The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), perhaps the most well-known of Madagascar’s endemic animals, is facing a “very high” risk of extinction in the wild. The Madagascar Section of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group reassessed the Red List status of ring-tailed lemurs and upgraded the species from Near-Threatened (2008) to Endangered (2012). Ring-tailed lemurs are facing extinction in some parts of Madagascar because of continued habitat loss, and more recently, species exploitation.
(12/05/2013) After playing, feeding, and socializing in trees all day, some ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) take their nightly respite in caves, according to a new study in Madagascar Conservation and Development. The findings are important because this is the first time scientists have ever recorded primates regularly using caves (see video below).
(08/21/2013) Raising young lemurs in communal crèches benefits both mothers and offspring, a new study has found. Andrea Baden and colleagues, of Yale University, studied a group of black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. This is the first study to examine the consequences of different parenting strategies in the ruffed lemur.
(08/14/2013) Primatologists and researchers have devised a wide-ranging plan to protect Madagascar’s most endangered lemurs from extinction.
(08/09/2013) Does size matter? When referring to primate brain size and its relation to social intelligence, scientists at Duke University do not think the answer is a simple yes or no. In the past, scientists have correlated large brain size to large group size. However, in a new study published in PLoS ONE, scientists at Duke University provide evidence that large social networks, rather than large brains, contribute to social cognition, favoring the evolution of social intelligence.
(07/30/2013) Researchers have discovered a new — and critically endangered — species of lemur on the island of Madagascar. The primate is formally described in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.