Saving lemurs from extinction

02-20-2014 -Lemurs live only in Madagascar. As the forests of Madagascar are gradually shrinking, the lemur’s habitat is also risk. With a three-year IUCN lemur action plan, the animals are now to be saved from extinction. In an article that appeared this week in the prestigious journal Science, a group of experts including a researcher from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna now detail the measures necessary to ensure the species’ survival.

Lemurs are the most endangered group of mammals in the world. They are native to the shrinking and fragmented tropical and subtropical forests of Madagascar, off Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, and are facing a grave of extinction, driven largely by human disturbance of their habitats. This fact is coupled with increasing rates of poaching and the loss of funding for environmental programmes from most international donors in the wake of the political crisis in Madagascar. As a result, the challenge to lemur conservation is immense.

Lemurs on the "Red List"

There are about 100 different species of lemurs in Madagascar. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 22 of them are threatened with extinction, 48 are critically endangered and 20 are vulnerable. These figures represent 94 percent of the total number of lemurs on the "Red List". But experts still have hope.

Action plan to be introduced

Co-author Marni LaFleur from the Institute of Population Genetics at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has examined the lemurs’ environment together with 18 other lemur experts under the direction of Christoph Schwitzer (Bristol Zoological Society, UK). In their article, the researchers illustrate why the implementation of a three-year action plan may permit the survival of lemurs. The plan includes conservation strategies for the 30 most important protected areas for the conservation of lemurs and will help raise funds for the various projects.

Protect the uniqueness of lemur population

LaFleur points out: "Lemurs only exist on Madagascar but they represent more than 20 percent of the world’s species of primates. This combination of diversity and uniqueness is unmatched by any other country."

"The fact is, if we don’t act now, we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time since our records began," Schwitzer explains. "Lemurs have important ecological and economic roles and are essential to maintaining Madagascar's unique forests through seed dispersal, as well as attracting income through ecotourism. Their loss is likely to trigger extinction cascades. The importance of the action plan cannot be overstated."

Improve management of protected areas

Vital steps outlined by Schwitzer and colleagues include the effective management of Madagascar's protected areas, the creation of more reserves directly managed by local communities and a long-term research presence in critical lemur sites. Working on grassroots projects with local communities and promoting and expanding ecotourism - one of the country’s most important sources of foreign exchange - are other important components of the action plan. 

The three-year IUCN lemur action plan “Lemurs of Madagascar – A Strategy for Their Conservation 2013-2016”, was compiled by a total of 83 authors.

The article „Averting Lemur Extinctions amid Madagascar‘s Political Crisis” by C. Schwitzer, R. A. Mittermeier, S. E. Johnson, G. Donati, M. Irwin, H. Peacock, J. Ratsimbazafy, J. Razafindramanana, E. E. Louis, Jr., L. Chikhi, I. C. Colquhoun, J. Tinsman, R. Dolch, M. LaFleur, S. Nash, E. Patel, B. Randrianambinina, T. Rasolofoharivelo and P. C. Wright was published in Science (Policy Forum). [Link 1]


Further information


Press Photo

Female Crowned lemur, taken on Madagascar (Photo: Russel Mittermair)
A female lemur holding onto a tree.


Scientific Contact

Marni LaFleur, PhD

T: USA 001-619-630-5315

Send an e-mail to Marni LaFleur [Link 3]


Distributed by

Dr. Susanna Kautschitsch
T +43 1 25077-1153; +43 664 60257-6587
E-Mail to Susanna Kautschitsch  [Link 4]


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