Madagascar’s lemurs, recently made famous by their portrayal in popular animated movies, may be at risk of extinction.
Leading experts warn that the destruction of forests and hunting are injuring the population. Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, director of a primate research center, GERP, said to BBC, "My heart is broken because the situation is getting worse as more forests disappear every year. That means the lemurs are in more and more trouble." He is also a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
"I would believe that within the next 25 years,” he said, “if the speed of the deforestation is still the same, there would be no forest left, and that means no lemurs left in this island."
One hundred and six species of the lemur have been noted so far, and almost all of them are at risk. Many of them are in critical danger. Their natural habitats are limited to Madagascar.
Professor Ratsimbazafy said, "Just as fish cannot survive without water, lemurs cannot survive without forest, but less than 10% of the original Madagascar forest is left.”
Despite the Madagascar people’s forestation out of an apparent necessity for farmland, conservationists claim that the cutting and burning is unnecessary, and leaves soil damaged. They say there are other ways to cultivate and save forests, and thus the lemurs.
"We have a struggle,” Ratsimbazafy said. “Sometimes there is engagement on paper but sometimes it's not in reality because on the ground there is still deforestation." He remembered discovering a new species of mouse lemur in a forest that was, two years later, turned into a field cassava.
A recent survey in 2013 by the Bristol Conservation and Science Group and Conservation International concluded that 94% of lemurs were at risk. It called for engagement of locals, eco-tourism, and a permanent presence in the forest.
Even with the lemurs at risk of extinction, conservationists say that helping them surviving in captivity should be a last resort, and efforts to preserve the forests should be exhausted first.