94 of the world’s 103 lemur species are at risk of extinction according to a new assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released by the group’s Species Survival Commission during a workshop this week.
Lemurs, a group of primates that is endemic to the island of Madagascar, are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching for the bushmeat trade. The update to the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species shows that 23 lemurs are now classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, 52 are ‘Endangered, 19 are ‘Vulnerable’ and three are ‘Near Threatened’. Only three lemur species are listed as ‘Least Concern’. The new numbers are alarming relative to the last assessment — carried out in 2005 — which identified 10 species as ‘Critically Endangered’, 21 as ‘Endangered’, and 17 as ‘Vulnerable’.
“The results of our review workshop this week have been quite a shock as they show that Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world,” said Christoph Schwitzer, the Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens who serves on the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group. “As a result, we now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates.”
“This new assessment highlights the very high extinction risk faced by Madagascar’s unique lemur fauna and it is indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole, which is vital to supporting its people,” added Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International (CI) and Chair of IUCN/SSC’s Primate Specialist Group. “As the forests go, so do lemurs and a host of benefits derived from them.”
The plight of lemurs has significantly worsened since a 2009 military coup plunged the country into a political crisis which undermined its institutions, led to abandonment of conservation initiatives, undercut Madagascar’s emerging ecotourism industry, and contributed to a sharp rise in illegal logging and commercial lemur hunting. Andry Rajoelina, the politician who seized the presidency during the coup, remains in power.
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