Learn about lemurs to save them
LEARN a little about lemurs and you will find a lot to love. Today, 111 species and subspecies live wild in their native home of Madagascar, a lush island off the eastern coast of Africa.
But there is bad news.
Experts say lemurs are among the most endangered primates in the world. Learning about them, however, is an important step towards saving them.
One of the most fascinating things about exotic, adorable lemurs is the dramatic differences among their species, said Cathy Williams, an experienced lemur veterinarian and the curator of the living animals collection at the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Some lemurs, such as tiny Madame Berthe’s mouse lemurs, are as small as a golf ball. One of the largest species of lemurs, the indri, weigh as much as 20kg, about the size of a French bulldog.
Some lemurs eat seeds, others eat leaves, flowers, insects and bamboo.
They differ in personality types, too – some are friendly and curious, others are quiet and shy or territorial and protective of group members.
“The aye-aye is the most curious and inquisitive,” Williams said, often tapping their keepers’ shoes or trying to grab their keys in their enclosure at the Duke Lemur Center.
Lemurs vary in the size and type of groups in which they live and in their ways of getting around. For example, Sifaka lemurs leap from tree to tree, while brown lemurs tend to walk along horizontal branches.
There are even differences in how lemurs carry their young.
Williams said: “Some stay in a nest. Some ride and some get parked on branches while Mom is away finding food.”
Madagascar, which is about the size of Texas, is the only place lemurs live wild. Many scientists consider the island to be “megadiverse”, which means it is one of Earth’s most rich and unique ecosystems.
It is also home to a variety of animals, including flamingos, fruit bats, crocodiles and chameleons.
Leading conservationists said in a recent report that almost all – 95% – of lemur species are close to becoming extinct. That means they could soon cease to live in the wild.
Madagascar, in addition to being one of the most ecologically diverse places on Earth, is also one of the poorest.
Human activities, such as illegal logging, mining of natural resources and burning forests to make room for farming, have caused lemurs’ tropical forest habitat to disappear at an alarming rate.
Russell Mittermeier, the chief conservation officer of an organisation called the Global Wildlife Conservation, said: “Lemurs depend on the forest, but their habitat is being destroyed.
“Lemurs are so important and the world loves them. We shouldn’t let them disappear.”
He noted that 17 species have already disappeared, including one species that was the size of a gorilla.
The animals play an important role in keeping the forest healthy. Fruit-eating lemurs spread seeds as they eat. Flower-eating lemurs serve as important pollinators.
The beloved animals also play a huge part in Madagascar’s eco-tourism industry.
Mittermeier said that if humans protect lemurs’ habitat, he is optimistic the resilient animals can make a comeback.
What can children do to help? Mittermeier said children should learn everything they can about the species and why the forest is important.
Then share what they know with anyone who will listen. Spend time outside to build an appreciation for nature.
Williams suggests planting a native garden, especially one that will attract pollinators, and sponsoring an animal at the Duke Lemur Center.
“We can save lemurs and we have the responsibility to try,” Mittermeier said. – Washington Post
A black-and-white ruffed lemur in the trees of Madagascar.PICTURES: RUSSELL MITTERMEIER