Lemur Plan Calls For Aid, Ecotourism To Save Madagascar's Endangered Species

By Josh Lieberman on February 22, 2014 12:54 PM EST

lemur action plan
Native to Madagascar, lemurs are among the most endangered animals in the world. (Photo: Reuters)

Take a look at the dude in the video below. Pretty cute, right? That's a Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, the smallest primate in the world (average size: 3.6 inches). But don't get too attached to him, because he'll probably be dead soon.

Of the 106 known lemur species, 94 percent of them (including the Madame Berthe's mouse lemur) are endangered. That makes lemurs among the world's most endangered animals and the world's number-one most threatened mammal group. Twenty-four lemur species are considered "critically endangered," the highest risk category, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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Lemurs are only found in Madagascar, where political turmoil following a 2009 coup, illegal logging and slash-and-burn farming, and hunting the animals for food have led to a serious crisis for lemurs. To reverse the animals' slide into extinction, 19 lemur experts have put together a new action plan. Published yesterday in Science, the three-year emergency plan calls for management of 30 lemur sites in Madagascar and an expansion of ecotourism to raise money for lemur conservation. The plan would only cost $7.6 million USD, funds which could be raised though foreign government aid, private funding and the profits of ecotourism.

The ecotourism conservation model has been used to raise funds in Rwanda and Uganda, where tourists go to see the endangered mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. And ecotourism has already come to Madagascar, where tourists have increasingly been visiting the Maromizaha forest, which is home to 13 lemur species.

"Extinctions could begin very soon if nothing is done," said Christoph Schwitzer, a researcher at the Bristol Zoological Society, in England, who led the team that wrote the lemur action plan. Schwitzer added that one species, the northern sportive lemur, numbers only 50 individuals. "One cyclone or other natural event could wipe out the entire population. In fact, anybody who decides to go out lemur hunting could tip the species over the edge."

Schwitzer told the BBC that the $7.6 million, a relatively small amount of money in aid terms, could be raised. "We haven't lost a single species of lemur--indeed not a single species of primate, during the last two centuries since our records began. We have the people, we have the place, we have the ideas, we are just just lacking funding."

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