Madagascan massacre!

Deforestation has led to a ‘lemur-gency’ so serious that there are now more lemurs in captivity around the world than living in their natural habitat.

Lemurs are said to have travelled to Madagascar centuries ago, clinging to bits of floating trees and other vegetation. Now, it is the large-scale destruction of their beloved trees that has made them either endangered or critically endangered.

 

There are 111 species of lemur, only found in the wild on the African island of Madagascar. 

The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) is probably the most well-known of the lemur family, with its black and white stripey long tail, actually longer than its body at around 22 inches, and black masked face.

And it is a very sad tale indeed that they have virtually disappeared, the numbers having dropped by 95 percent in the last 17 years. It is one of the most endangered lemur species in the world with a high risk of extinction. But why? 

'The boss, Zeuss: just chilling and keeping an eye on things'

Madagascar has lost around 80 percent of its forests due to the extraction of hardwoods such as mahogany and tamarind trees. The land has been cleared for agriculture and grazing using ‘slash and burn’ techniques, logging for precious woods to use for construction, fuel and charcoal production.

Other deforested areas are replaced with coffee and vanilla trees. What’s wrong with coffee and vanilla trees you might think? Well, coffee and vanilla simply aren’t on a lemur’s menu or shopping list. They depend on the forest for eating fruit, flowers, leaves, bark and sap. They also like to snack on rotten wood, earth, insects and small vertebrates. 

'The troop: waiting for the breakfast bell to be rung. All their names began with a Z'

The Madagascan people have made efforts to help them regain their habitat by creating corridors of lemur-friendly forest, but conservation projects need to gain momentum if they are to make a real difference to the lemurs’ future survival.

Conserving the remaining natural habitat, including the mountain forest, is urgently needed. Community-based conservation needs to be increased and the illegal trade of lemurs is also threatening the survival of this incredible creature. Once captured, they are often kept in small cages or other unsuitable conditions.

Ring-tailed lemurs are very cheeky, sociable and affectionate, always playing, chasing and snuggling while groups of them like to sleep in a big ball to keep each other warm.

'A stripey snuggle in a lemur ball'

They live in groups known as ‘troops’ which are made up of six to 30 individual lemurs but more usually around 17. A female lemur is called a ‘princess’ and there is always a boss lemur who keeps things in check with his mischievous troop.

Lemurs are amazing creatures and are related to monkeys. For this reason, they do not make very good pets, they are very lively wild animals and need space. They often walk on all fours but also jump and climb with virtually no effort, they actually look like they are bouncing when they bound along on their back legs with their arms in the air almost looking like a human (in a lemur costume of course).

Another endearing thing about the ring-tailed lemur is that they love sunbathing, usually in groups. They adopt a yoga-like pose and seem to enter a kind of trance, just chilling and enjoying the warmth of the rays. They often pick a very precarious place to do this as they just can’t help themselves. 

 

But if you want to help the ring-tailed lemurs, why not do something on World Animal Day on October 4?

You could make a small donation to charity to wear something stripey to work, or have a stripey-themed party, get someone to face paint you with a lemur face at the same time.

All the money raised can go to conservation projects such as:

Why not look up your local conservation scheme and ask how else you can help?

 

Guest article written by Patricia Bow.

 

Images:

  • Image one: 'Sunbathing' by Николай Кисель on Unsplash
  • Image two: 'The Boss' by Patricia Bow
  • Image three: 'The Troop' by Patricia Bow
  • Image four: 'Lemur Ball' by Victoria Bragg on Unsplash

Sources:

- August 3, 2022