According to Dr Andrew Terry of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, “Madagascar is an ancient island that split from the Gondwana super-continent approximately 165 million years ago.” This split means that it is home to a number of rare breeds of animals and plant forms – in fact, over 95% of the plants and animals are not found elsewhere. One of the breeds of animals for which Madagascar is most famous is the lemur, of which there are over 100 different species.
Unfortunately, according to a new survey, the results of which are summarised in a BBC article, Madagascar’s lemurs are sliding towards extinction. This is primarily for two reasons:
A study by researchers at Bangor University in Wales has shown that the local culture is slowly being eroded and, whereas lemurs were once highly esteemed, they are now seen as a good source of food. Meat is not easily raised in rainforest areas like Madagascar; chickens, for example, frequently succumb to disease. However, the slight raise in disposable income that locals have earned from working the mines has seen an increase in the availability of bushmeat and so lemurs are being increasingly hunted for that purpose.
However, the availability of meat is important for nutritional purposes, particularly for children. Experts recommend that alternatives are found to replace the need for bushmeat, but that is easier said than done. Ongoing vaccination programmes to deal with diseases associated with poultry will also have to be put into practice.
The local population lives on less than $2 a day, which makes lucrative international markets, such as the hardwood market, just too hard to resist. Before the 2009 change in government, Madagascar relied on tourism for money; everyone was eager to visit to see the rare plants and animals on offer. However, from that point on, the regime was not internationally supported, which meant a massive decrease in tourism. Now, locals are easily swayed by traders who offer money and food in return for logs of hardwood – primarily rosewood, but also ebony and pallisander. The wood is then shipped abroad, where it is highly prized, particularly in China.
The logging trade is illegal, but it nevertheless goes on; to the extent that experts estimate that 90% of the original forest has now gone. This, of course, means that the habitat for its animals, including lemurs is increasingly fragile.
The twofold attack against the lemur population has led to experts recommending that the International Union for Conservation of Nature put them on a Red List of Threatened Species. In 2008, 8 species were on the critically endangered list. Another 18 were on the endangered and 14 were vulnerable. Experts now suggest that more than 90% of the 103 species of lemurs should be on the Red List – including 23 that are critically endangered, 52 that are endangered and another 19 that are vulnerable.
If it is possible for the situation to change so quickly over four years, it is obvious that without prompt intervention by international bodies and education of the locals, many species of lemur will be extinct in the next few years.