New Assessment Finds Madagascar's Lemurs to be the Most Threatened Mammal Species in the World


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

Antanarivo, Madagascar — 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 previously imagined.

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 Biodiversity Foundation. 

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 species.”

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

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 »

Lemurs of 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 Gardens

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 species.

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 Foundation

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.

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 conservation behaviour.

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.

About Conservation International (CI)

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world.  For more information, please visit at , or on Facebook or Twitter