By John R. Platt
One of the most recently discovered lemur species of Madagascar could also be one of the first to disappear. The striking blue-eyed black lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), which was only identified as a species in 2008, faces extinction in as little as 11 years due to rapid deforestation in its only habitat, according to research published January 22 in the African Journal of Ecology.
Blue-eyed black lemurs already appear on the list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates. The lemurs, which only live in a few small patches of forest in northwestern Madagascar, have experienced a population decline of more than 80 percent since scientists first described them in 1983. For most of that time they were listed as a subspecies of the similar-in-appearance black lemur (E. macaco) but were finally reclassified as a distinct species a few years ago.
Deforestation and trapping have already taken their toll on the blue-eyed lemurs but the damage has sped up in the past few years. Madagascar has been in political crisis since 2009, which has resulted in extreme levels of poaching, illegal logging, landscape burning for agriculture and other environmental crimes.
The problem has gotten so bad that the blue-eyed lemurs will completely lose their remaining habitat in as little as 11 years if the current deforestation rate intensifies, according to the new paper, which was written by researchers from the University of KwaZulu–Natal in South Africa and University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. The researchers took a lot of factors into consideration, running the numbers under 100 different variables over the next century. Even under the best-case scenarios, the lemurs don’t have much of a chance. The researchers calculate that if the level of deforestation slows, the lemurs could last another 44 years.
These are all preliminary results and the authors say they need more testing to verify their conclusions, but this definitely illustrates the immediate need to establish greater conservation efforts for the blue-eyed black lemur while there’s still time to do so.
Luckily, some conservation efforts are already being established. “People are working hard in this region,” said noted lemur researcher Russell Mittermeier, executive vice chair of Conservation International. “Hopefully extinction can be prevented.”
Improving future research will require coming up with a better counting method to determine how many of these tiny primates, which measure 45 centimeters from head to tail, remain in the wild. Current estimates put the population at as low as 450 to as many as 1,500. Only about 60 of the lemurs live in captivity in zoos in the U.S. and Europe.