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Ring-tailed Lemur Population Threatened by Hunting and Habitat Destruction

Dec 22, 2016 04:20 AM EST

Habitat destruction is one of the major contributing factors to the decline of the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar. Along with bushmeat hunting and illegal capture, the dwindling population of the ring-tailed lemur has raised much concern in the scientific community.

Professor Lisa Gould of the University of Victoria has published a study in the journal Primate Conservation that showed there are less than 2,500 lemurs in Madagascar where only three sites contain more than 200 lemurs. There are 12 sites with less than 30 lemurs and 15 sites that have already declared ring-tailed lemurs are either locally extinct in their area or could disappear very soon.

University of Colorado at Boulder professor Michelle Sauther, one of the authors of the study, has studied ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar for 30 years. "This is very troubling. They are disappearing right under our noses."

According to Sauther, ring-tailed lemurs are ecologically adaptable and capable of surviving in harsh habitats. Their dwindling population could be a sign that about three-quarters of the 100 species of other lemur species in Madagascar could also be in trouble. "Ring-tailed lemurs are like the canary in a coal mine. If they are going down the drain, what will happen to the other lemur species on the island that have more specific habitat and diet requirements?"

The open-pit sapphire mines that draw hordes of people from all over the island, and even outside of it, to tunnel through the ground has resulted in a great amount of forest destruction.

"I think it's important to keep in mind that what is driving habitat loss and ring-tailed lemur declines is human poverty," Sauther said, acknowledging that Madagascar has more than 22 million people, a majority of whom live on a budget of less than $2 a day. "We are getting an early warning that if we don't do something very quickly, the species is going to become extinct. And this is the one primate species in Madagascar we never thought this would happen to."

"It was important to try and document as many populations of ring-tailed lemurs in as many regions as possible," stated Gould. "While I was discovering previously unknown lemur populations, many of them are likely to be extirpated in the near future."

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