The island of Madagascar is home to animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth. Among them? Lemurs, which are unfortunately staring down some very bad news.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced an update to its Red List of Threatened species on Thursday, and it now includes 33 lemur species as critically endangered. That means that about a third of all lemur species are sitting at the last step before extinction in the wild on the group’s scale. These magnificent creatures have been suffering for years now and it seems the trends are accelerating.
In the IUCN update last year, the situation already looked bad for the unique primates of Madagascar. The group sounded the alarm even louder this year, though, changing the status of 13 species to reflect their even more dire circumstances. Among them are Verreaux’s sifaka, known for its disco-like dance moves, and the adorably tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur. Both now critically endangered compared to “just” endangered last year. All told, 103 of the surviving 107 lemur species are at least threatened.
Deforestation and hunting in Madagascar are driving these primates — lovingly portrayed in Madagascar — to the edge. Farmers in on the island nation use slash-and-burn techniques to convert the rainforest into agriculture lands and destroying critical lemur habitat as a result. The rainforest is also getting hit by loggers chopping down trees for charcoal and fuel.
In impoverished parts of the country, many families also eat bushmeat for nutrition. Hunting lemurs is illegal, yet people still do it. That’s the consequence of extreme poverty. Unfortunately, the lemurs are a target. The IUCN said in a statement that wants to invest in local ecotourism efforts to help deter the practice and create areas with community-based protections.
“Although the situation remains very serious for the majority of lemur species, it is fair to say that some, such as the severely depleted northern sportive lemur, might already be extinct had it not been for this investment,” Russ Mittermeier, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group, said.
If governments implement proper protections and incentivise conserving rainforests and wild areas, deforestation could start to be slowed or even reversed. Some research points to just giving people money as an incredibly effective strategy for saving forests as well.
“Lemurs are firmly on the radar screen of conservationists, but further investment in their conservation will be required to reverse their decline,” Jon Paul Rodríguez, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in a statement. “The drivers of species loss are complex and powerful, so our response must be of a comparable intensity.”