Lemur Alert

05 indri
Indri by Tom Nicholson-Lailey

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world. This diverse group of primates includes more than 100 species, but can only be found on Madagascar and the neighbouring Comoro Islands. On display here in the Museum we have a variety of lemurs, including the skeletons of extinct giant lemurs – some of which were as large as an adult human,

Sportive Lemur
Sportive Lemur

With many species already extinct, the Lemur is in real trouble. This week a World Lemur Festival is being held in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. To spread the word, the Lemur Conservation Foundation have put together a film to celebrate the festival and to highlight how close we are to losing the lemur.

Here in the UK, East Oxford residents and Museum visitors Tom Nicholson-Lailey and Janet McCrae approached us about the Lemur Festival. Janet and her partner Michael set up the McCrae Conservation and Education Fund in 2006 to support local conservation work in Madagascar. In collaboration with the late primatologist Dr Alison Jolly and Durrell Wlldlife, they’ve produced a series of posters, which have been distributed to 200 primary schools, featuring ecosystems under threat. Janet says she is

Mad about helping local children understand the unique habitat and their role in preserving it.

One of the posters designed by  McCrae Conservation and Education Fund
One of the posters designed by Janet Robinson for the McCrae Conservation and Education Fund

Tom has made 3 visits to Madagascar for wildlife-watching holidays, and has contributed the fantastic photographs you can see here. He says

“I hope that by travelling to Madagascar and visiting national parks and reserves, we are supporting local conservation work in Madagascar, and helping to ensure that conservation has a high political profile.”

Golden Crowned Lemur
Golden Crowned Sifaka – one of the amazing photos by Tom Nicholson-Lailey

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is one of nature’s great treasure-houses, described as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ for its number and variety of species. Some 90% of all the island’s animal and plant species are ‘endemic’ – found nowhere else in the world. The ‘flagship’ species that best represent Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity are the lemurs. No less than 103 species and sub-species of these beautiful, harmless, tree-dwelling primates had been identified by 2012, including as many as 39 species identified since the year 2000.

Verreaux Sifaka
Verreaux Sifaka

Most of the island’s original forests have long been destroyed. With a growing population already over 22 million, and extensive rural poverty, the few isolated strips and pockets of forest that comprise the lemurs’ habitats are under increasing threat from slash-and-burn agriculture and from illegal logging of precious hardwood trees.

The current 2012-14 IUCN list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates includes six lemur species:

Blue-eyed Black Lemur (Eulemur flavifrons) – Endangered

Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentronalis) – Critically endangered

Silky Sifaka (Propithecus candidus) – Critically endangered

Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus berthae)- Endangered

Red Ruffed Lemur (Varecia rubra) – Endangered

Indri (Indri indri) – Endangered

Much needs to be done to strengthen the efforts of local organisations in Madagascar to raise awareness of the unique lemur plight and to help people find alternative means of making a living.

Red Ruffed Lemur
Red Ruffed Lemur

But Janet explains that there is also some good news. Conservation organisations like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust are working with local people in Madagascar to help preserve Lemurs’ habitats, and there are some notable success stories.

The ‘Bandro’, or Bamboo Lemur
The ‘Bandro’, or Bamboo Lemur

In the Lake Alaotra area villagers have been helping to protect wetland reed-beds from destruction. The ‘Bandro’, or Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which depends on the reed-beds for food and shelter, is no longer on the Critically Endangered list.

Through Durrell’s website, you could adopt your own lemur; choose from ‘Bandro’ the Bamboo Lemur or ‘Stumpy’ the Ring-tailed Lemur. Janet and Tom emphasise that

“They need all the help they can get from friends like you”.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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