Learn about lemurs to save them

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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