Monday, March 27, 2017

Ring Tailed Lemur Now on Edge of Extinction

The iconic ring-tailed lemur (Lemur cattus) perhaps the most well-known member of a large genus inhabiting the island nation of Madagascar is living on the edge of extinction in the wild according to a new study of the animal's population.  According to the study published in Primate Conservation, only 2,000 to 2,400 ring-tails now remain in the wild.  The study confirms the catastrophic decline in their numbers observed by other scientists and due mainly to loss of forest habitat and the bush meat trade.  The population crash maybe as high as 95% since 2000.  Fragmentation of their forest homes are isolating small groups which prevents out breeding and contributes to the decline in genetic health of the species. Ring-tails are highly social primates living in female dominated groups averaging 17 members.

This situation is especially alarming since ring-tails are the most adaptable of lemur species.  More specialized lemurs such as the indri and safakas will find it increasingly difficult to survive in what remains of natural Madagascar.  Over 90% of the island natural tree cover is gone, and what hangs on is degraded and fragmented.  Humans have occupied the island since at least the first century CE.  Madagascar separated from mainland Africa millennia ago, so many of its wild creatures are endemic including the 106 species of lemur, 17 of which have gone extinct since the arrival of humans.  The human population of the island is thought to be in excess of 25 million, 85% of which live in poverty and are dependent on subsistence farming.  More and more land is being cleared to support a human population level that is increasingly unsustainable.   The lemur's future on the planet is in the hands of island's human inhabitants.  Fortunately, lemurs do relatively well in captivity, reproduce regularly, and can live to thirty years of age compared to twenty years for wild lemurs.