5 facts about lemurs, jewels of Madagascar's biodiversity

Posted on 15 October 2020

Where do lemurs come from and what are their origins? The ancestors of the lemurs would have arrived from Africa to Madagascar by natural floating rafts 65 million years ago. Then they evolved and adapted in the different types of existing ecosystems. The lemurs thus diversified and today, they occupy very specific places where they are endemic. For example, the Simpona, Propithecus candidus lives only in the high altitude rainforest of northern Madagascar. The Maki or Lemur catta lives mainly in the spiny forest of southwestern Madagascar. The Alaotra lake hapalemur, Hapalemur alaotrensis as for him, lives only in the marshes and bamboos of the Alaotra lake.

All of our lemurs are in danger and risk to disappear. The arrival in Madagascar of the first human beings, two thousand years ago, marked the beginning of the exploitation of nature. Since then, the lemurs' habitat has been reduced due to deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture, mining, illegal logging and coal mining. Indeed, Madagascar has lost 44% of its natural forests since the 1950s. From 2001 to 2019, according to Global Forest Watch, Madagascar lost 3.89Mha of forest cover, the equivalent of a 23% reduction since the year 2000. An update of the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that 31% of all lemur species in Madagascar are now Critically Endangered. The population size of lemurs is also declining as they are hunted for their meat and to be domesticated as pets. In Madagascar, more than 28,000 specimens of lemurs were illegally kept as pets or domestic animals by private individuals and institutions between 2010 and mid-2013.

Our lemurs are also vulnerable to climate change. Species may disappear and leave their environment of origin because of climate change. According to a scientific study published in 2019 in "Nature Climate Change", 95% of the habitat of lemur species could be destroyed by 2070 because of global warming. In 2018, the WWF report "Wildlife in a warming world" showed that the population of 57 species of lemurs will decrease by 60% if the global temperature increases between 2°C and 4°C by 2100. In such a case, three areas have been identified as climatic refuges for lemurs: the Masoala Peninsula, the Mangoky River and an area in the northwest of the country, including Ankarafantsika National Park.

Exploiting lemurs is punished by the law! The possession, transport, sale and consumption of lemurs is strictly prohibited by law. There are laws in force for the strict protection of lemurs, as stipulated in the Code of Protected Areas (COAP) or the Law on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 
Decree 2006-400 classifies Madagascar's wildlife species into three categories. The protected species of category 1, including the lemur, benefit from absolute protection throughout the entire Malagasy territory. Hunting, capture, possession, consumption and commercialization of the species are strictly prohibited in all their forms. 
Offenses are punishable by a sentence of six (06) months to twenty (20) years of imprisonment and/or a fine of 5,000,000 to 2,000,000,000 Ariary ( 1,000 to nearly 435,000 euros) depending on their seriousness.

What can we do for lemurs? The commitment of humans is very important for the conservation of lemurs. This is why WWF, the administration and its partners are committed to the protection of lemurs and forests with local communities. "We are implementing protection activities in Simpona, for example, in the Marojejy Anjanaharibe Sud Tsaratanàna Corridor in northern Madagascar, involving local communities in particular in patrols to detect and reduce threats such as poaching," say Rafanomezantsoa Simon from WWF. WWF also supports communities in the restoration of natural forests, which are home to lemurs, as well as in awareness-raising activities.
Let's join the global action by allowing all citizens to sign an online petition "Voice for the Planet" to call on our leaders to commit to concrete actions to reverse the degradation of nature. Let's participate in the restoration of the habitats of these iconic species of Madagascar, which are the pride of our country. Let's get informed and let's make sure that lemurs are talked about all over the world. "Lemurs and their habitats: a heritage to preserve" !