Status of 103 species of lemurs assessed by scientists reveals alarming loss; indicates urgent need to protect Madagascar's globally important forests for primates and people
— Leading conservationists have gathered
at a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Species Survival Commission this week to review the conservation status of the
world’s 103 lemur species — the most endangered primate group in the world.
The results of the conference have today been announced, highlighting that
many lemur species are on the very brink of extinction due primarily to habitat
loss, and in need of urgent and effective protection measures. The conservation
status of 91 per cent of the world’s lemur species have now been upgraded to
either ‘Critically Endangered’, ‘Endangered’ or ‘Vulnerable’ on the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened
Species — an indicator of rampant forest loss which additionally endangers vital
ecosystem services that support Madagascar’s people.
Of the world’s 103 different species of lemurs, 23 are now considered
‘Critically Endangered’, 52 are ‘Endangered, 19 are ‘Vulnerable’ and two are
‘Near Threatened’. Just three lemur species are listed as ‘Least Concern’. A
previous assessment carried out in 2005 as part of a Global Mammal Assessment
identified 8 species as ‘Critically Endangered’, 18 as ‘Endangered’, and 15 as
‘Vulnerable’, already a very high number. However, given the recent increases
in the number of new species and the fact that the level of threat has increased
over the past three years, the experts decided to carry out a reassessment of
Madagascar’s lemur fauna.
Lemurs are in danger of becoming extinct by destruction of their tropical
forest habitat on their native island of Madagascar, off Africa's Indian Ocean
coast, where political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal
logging. Hunting of these animals has also emerged as a more serious threat than
Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, is a world
leading primatologist and is on the organising committee for the conference in
his role as advisor on Madagascar’s primates and the Red List authority for the
IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Primate Specialist Group. He explained
the significance of the lemur assessments: “The results of our review workshop
this week have been quite a shock as they show that Madagascar has, by far, the
highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any
one country in the world. As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably
the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
Among the most spectacular species of lemurs assessed as ‘Critically
Endangered’ this week is the indri, the largest of the living lemurs and a
species of symbolic value comparable to that of China’s giant panda, Madame
Berthe’s mouse lemur, at 30 grams the world’s smallest primate, and the
blue-eyed black lemur, the only primate species other than humans that has blue
eyes. Probably the rarest lemur is the northern sportive lemur (Lepilemur
septentrionalis), of which there are only 18 known individuals left.
Dr. Russell Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and
Chair of IUCN/SSC’s Primate Specialist Group, said: “This new
assessment highlights the very high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s unique
lemur fauna and it is indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity
as a whole, which is vital to supporting its people. As the forests go, so do
lemurs and a host of benefits derived from them.”
“Madagascar’s unique and wonderful species are its greatest asset and its
most distinctive brand and the basis for a major tourism industry that continues
to grow in spite of the current political problems."
The workshop, held in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, included a
welcome speech by British entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, who is a great fan
of lemurs and welcomed the work being done by conservationists to protect these
rare creatures. The workshop also had the support of the Ambatovy Nickel Mining
Project, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Margot Marsh
Delegates, who have attended the conference from the UK, Madagascar, the
United States, Canada, India, Germany, Italy and France, are now working
together to establish a Conservation Action Plan to protect the most threatened
lemurs over the coming decade.
Dr Schwitzer said: “This conference is a good example of the growing
importance of collaboration between the international conservation, research and
zoo communities in the protection of species and habitats. At Bristol Zoo
Gardens, we will continue our conservation and research with the aim of
increasing the effectiveness of the conservation activities, as well as
increasing our understanding of these, and other, critically endangered
A more positive outcome of the conference has been the discovery of a
previously unknown species of lemur — a type of mouse lemur — discovered by
Peter Kappeler and his team at the German Primate Center. The new species is
found in the Marolambo area of eastern Madagascar. A formal description of the
species has not yet been published, meaning it has not yet been given a name.
This is the 103rd taxon of lemur known to man.
In Madagascar, Bristol Zoo is working with other European zoos to protect the
last remaining populations of two critically endangered lemur species, the
blue-eyed black lemur and the Sahamalaza sportive lemur. Both are only found on
the Sahamalaza Peninsula in the northwest of the island and are threatened by
habitat destruction and hunting. Bristol Zoo’s work in the field is carried out
through the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), which is based
at Bristol Zoo Gardens. For more information about Bristol Zoo and BCSF’s
project work in Madagascar, visit www.bcsf.org.uk/madagascar
Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the
generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo,
but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.
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Notes to Editors
The preliminary results from the red-listing workshop are as follows (103
lemur species in total):
- 23 Critically Endangered
- 52 Endangered
- 19 Vulnerable
- 2 Near Threatened
- 3 Least Concern
- 4 Data Deficient
The lemur red-listing and conservation planning workshop was sponsored by the
Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation
Fund, Ambatovy Minerals S.A., Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite, Conservation
International, and the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, and was held
at the Carlton Hotel in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.
- The island of Madagascar, located some 400 m off the east coast of Africa,
is in many ways the highest priority biodiversity hotspot on Earth.
- Covering nearly 600,000km2 (slightly larger than France), it is the fourth
largest island in the world, but the largest oceanic island.
- It has been separated from the rest of the world for at least 90 million
years, meaning that most of the plant and animal species found on Madagascar are
unique to the island and found nowhere else.
- In addition, because of its geographic location in the tropics and
subtropics and its unusual geological history and topography, it has very high
levels of species diversity and extremely high endemism (species found nowhere
else on the planet).
- Sadly, Madagascar is also one of the most heavily impacted countries on
Earth in terms of recent habitat destruction.
- Nearly 90 percent of its natural vegetation has already been lost and
erosion is as extreme as anywhere on the planet.
- There has also been considerable political instability there since a coup in
March, 2009, and the current government is not recognized by any other country.
- Following this coup, there has been a serious breakdown of protective
measures, with two key protected areas in northern Madagascar, Masoala National
Park and Marojejy National Park, both of them part of a UNESCO complex of World
Heritage Sites, being invaded for extraction of valuable timbers, esp. rosewood.
- There has also been a recent upsurge of bushmeat hunting, which has impacted
lemurs, tortoises, and many other species.
- Learn more about Madagascar
- In terms of primates, Madagascar is without a doubt the single highest
primate conservation fauna on Earth.
- Its primate fauna consists entirely of lemurs, a unique radiation of
nonhuman primates that includes five families, 15 genera, and 102 species, all
of them endemic to Madagascar and found nowhere else. This represents more than
20 per cent of all primates on Earth, in an area that is well under one per cent
of the total global land area occupied by primates.
- What is particularly remarkable in light of the serious degradation that has
been taken, is the continued discovery of species new to science, with 40 new
species described since 2000.
- Learn more about Madagascar's lemurs »
Bristol Zoo is open from 9am every day except Christmas Day.
Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on
income from visitors and supporters to continue its important work.
Bristol Zoo is involved with more than 100 co-ordinated breeding programmes
for threatened wildlife species. It employs over 150 full and part-time staff to
care for the animals and run a successful visitor attraction to support its
conservation and education work.
Bristol Zoo supports — through finance and skill sharing — 15 projects in the
UK and abroad that conserve and protect some of the world’s most endangered
In 2011 Bristol Zoo celebrated its 175th birthday. Over that past 175 years,
the Zoo has brought six generations of Bristolians closer to wildlife, helped
save over 175 species from extinction, established over 30 field conservation
and research programmes all over the world, showed 40 million school-aged
children the wonder of nature and given more than 90 million visitors a
wonderful day out.
In 2010 Bristol Zoo Gardens set up a Conservation Fund to raise vital funds
to help care for threatened animals and plants – both in the Zoo and through the
conservation work we do in the UK and around the world.
Bristol Zoo Gardens is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos
and Aquariums. BIAZA represents more than 90 member collections and promotes the
values of good zoos and aquariums.
The Bristol Conservation and Science
Bristol Zoo’s work in the field is carried out through the Bristol
Conservation and Science Foundation (BCSF), which is based at Bristol Zoo
BCSF carries out conservation and research programmes to support wildlife
conservation — both in the UK and across the world — as well as research
projects at Bristol Zoo Gardens.It aims to focus on the underlying causes of
threats to species and ecosystems, rather than the symptoms.
It also aims to empower other people, often those in disadvantaged
communities, to identify and mitigate the environmental issues that threaten
species, their habitats and sustainable development.
BCSF’s public presence in Bristol Zoo Gardens enables it to engage actively
with the public, to share knowledge, elicit support and drive change in
Field conservation projects run by BCSF include Père David deer in China;
Livingstone’s fruit bats in the Union of the Comoros; primates of Colombia;
partula snails of French Polynesia; South African penguins; lemurs of
Madagascar; primates of Cameroon; tortoises and terrapins of Vietnam; the Avon
Gorge & Downs Wildlife Project; native invertebrates and rare plant
reintroductions in Somerset and white-clawed crayfish in south west England.
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