By Marni LaFleur
The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), perhaps the most well-known of Madagascar’s endemic animals, is facing a "very high" risk of extinction in the wild. The Madagascar Section of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group reassessed the Red List status of ring-tailed lemurs and upgraded the species from Near-Threatened (2008) to Endangered (2012). Ring-tailed lemurs are facing extinction in some parts of Madagascar because of continued habitat loss, and more recently, species exploitation.
Habitat clearance and degradation are widespread throughout Madagascar. In the eastern rainforests, precious hardwoods (e.g. rosewood, ebony) are illegally extracted for their commercial value. However, in southern Madagascar, where ring-tailed lemurs persist, forest products are by-and-large used for local subsistence (i.e. charcoal, construction) and livestock forage. Forest regeneration time is long in these areas, given the arid conditions, which makes it difficult for animals to re-colonize extremely disturbed lands. Jacky Youssuff, a Professor at the University of Toliara, and his students have been documenting the effects of deforestation on ring-tailed lemurs and note both population declines and an increase in disease prevalence in lemurs in disturbed areas.
In addition to habitat loss, ring-tailed lemurs are also facing a burgeoning pet trade. Wild-caught infants and juveniles are targeted and sold to hoteliers or tourists. Animals may net up to 5,000 Ariary or about the equivalent of $2 US. Though ring-tailed lemurs are a protected species, wildlife laws have been difficult to enforce, given the remoteness of villages, little local knowledge of protection, and in some areas, a complete lack of law enforcement personal. Pet lemurs often become aggressive as they mature, and owners are pressured to confine or sell the animals.
However, Malagasy officials have recently been confiscating pet lemurs and handing the animals over to the Association Reniala to Mangily, a private reserve near Toliara and the first center of its kind in southern Madagascar.
"This is clearly a real issue," says Michelle Sauther from the University of Colorado Boulder, who has studied ring-tailed lemurs for over 25 years, "confiscating illegally held lemurs is the right thing to do and Reniala is to be commended for trying to help, but this problem will not go away." More....