Animals in Therapy | Deep Dive
How far can a lemur jump?
They’re resourceful, you’ve got to give them that. Considering their circumstances, these mostly sociable and impressively varied primates must be. As more of their natural forest habitat is chopped down and converted into farmland, lemurs are finding ways to adapt.
That doesn’t mean life is easy. Even a tree-crazy lemur can only jump so far.
Female-first, scent lovers
There are five families of lemur, and within them more than one hundred different species. Found only on Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, they live in female-dominated groups known as ‘troops’. This means girls often eat first, seem to have no problem grabbing the best sunbathing spot, or even kicking back while being groomed by (male) underlings.
Like apes and gorillas, they have similar hands and feet, which – when the terrain allows – they use to swing through trees. Some, like ring-tailed lemurs – remember them from the Madagascar movies? – go in for ‘stink-flirting’. Guys secrete rank chemicals which they wipe on their tails and waft around in the hopes of bagging their crush. Or they face off with rivals in ‘stink fights’ where they try to out-pong one another!
So many different types
Among them, there's astonishing variety. On the large side, the indri can grow up to 35 inches (90cm), while Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur can be as little as 3½ inches (9cm). There are ruffed lemurs, white collared lemurs, and once, there were giant lemurs as big as gorillas. Aye-ayes, with their bulging eyes, may not be the most movie-genic of the species. By contrast, mature blue-eyed black lemurs are the world’s only primates (other than humans) to rock sky-blue peepers.
Some are insectivores, others exclusively bamboo or fruit-eaters. Some live in tropical rainforest; others in woodland where trees lose their leaves once a year. Or in Madagascar’s unique spiny forest, its wetlands and even its mountains.
Madagascar: an evolutionary epicenter
Inevitably, there’s a BUT. Because the removal of huge swaths of forest has had a drastic effect on lemurs and other species’ numbers. Isolated in the Indian Ocean off the African coast for millions of years, Madagascar has a range of plants and animals that is breathtaking. Many of its more than 650 species of freshwater fish, crab, dragonfly and aquatic plant are found nowhere else.
It’s the same for a large percentage of its 370 terrestrial reptiles, its more than 300 idiosyncratic birds. Yet, like its more than 3,000 trees – 90% of them unique to the island – way too many species in this biological treasure trove are in danger of being lost.
Between 1953 and 2014, Madagascar lost roughly 44% of its natural forest. The figures for its dry, deciduous forest are worse: 97% gone by 2000. Logging, hunting, slash-and-burn agriculture, and gold mining are all culprits – as is climate change.
The most endangered vertebrates on earth?
The fallout for lemurs is impossible to ignore. Reduced and fragmented tree cover changes their behaviour. One study found that Verreaux’s sifaka lemurs spent less time feeding and had lower birth rates when living at the edges of the forest.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a staggering 95% of all lemurs are now threatened with extinction. Yet new species, including several mouse lemurs, some on the verge of extinction, are still being discovered! Many have likely disappeared without being identified.
The situation could hardly be more crazy, or dire.
Protect the forest and its inhabitants
Thankfully, people are fighting back. The UN has declared 2021 to 2030 the decade of ‘ecosystem restoration’ and in Madagascar, the Government has pledged to plant 60 million trees. Local conservation groups and the Community Forest Management program, which helps people gain an income while reducing deforestation, are having an impact.
But more needs to be done. In the past two decades alone, 25% of the island’s remaining tree cover has gone. It goes without saying that these are vital to protect its phenomenal and diverse species and reduce the effects of climate change.
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Founded by local primatologists, GERP (Group d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar) includes teachers, students and researchers. The group has been managing Madagascar’s vital Maromizaha rainforest since 2008 and is an On the Edge grantee. Members patrol the forest, raise awareness of its importance and work with local authorities.
Lemur Conservation Foundation helps lemur species through breeding and education programs. It also supplies financial support for a research and tourist camp in northeast Madagascar.
Launched in 2021, Re:wild works with partners in more than 50 countries to protect wild spaces and the planet’s most threatened species. In Madagascar, its focus is reforestation through the planting of native trees, conservation actions for lemurs and ecotourism.
Eden Reforestation Projects collaborates with local communities to alleviate poverty in developing countries through employing local people to plant native tree species.