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In Madagascar, four species of lemurs have been included in the list of the 25 most endangered primate species in the world, according to the report “Primates in peril 2022-2023”. Deforestation, coal mining or even slash and burn cultivation lead these species of lemurs, two diurnal and two nocturnal, including Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, the smallest known primate in the world, to survive in shreds of forest. An isolation that arouses great concern, explains Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, president of the Study and Research Group on the primates of Madagascar and president of the International Society of Primatology.
RFI: On what criteria were these four species of lemurs included in this list ?
Jonah Ratsimbazafy : There is a great threat that these species will disappear if we do not act immediately. Of these four species, three were already found in previous reports: microcebus berthae, eulemur flavifrons and lepilemur septentrionalis. If we still find them in this list this year, it is because there has not been much progress and they are still in danger of extinction. For the lepilemur septentrionalis, in the far north, only a few dozen individuals remain. the propithecus coquereli just registered. If we look at its distribution west of Madagascar, we may think that it is still large, but in reality, it is only found in small strips of forest. If this continues, these populations will disappear, even if they are not hunted.
What threats do they face?
The main threat to these species is first loss of their habitat. For example, the Menabe Antimena protected area in western Madagascar will disappear within four years if the current rate of destruction of this forest continues. It is only there that one can find the microcebus berthae, the smallest known primate in the world. Apart from deforestation and fires, there is also hunting for large diurnal lemur species. People hunt greater sifakas and eulemurs to eat them or keep them in captivity. There is also the destruction of their habitat by people who exploit artisanal mines, who search for gold and precious stones. They destroy the forest and at the same time hunt the animals.
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What are the consequences of the fragmentation of Malagasy forests on the reproduction of these species?
Not only these four species, but also many species of lemurs, are found in small fragments of forests and when the population is isolated for several years, there is a problem of inbreeding. There is no more exchange. There is no more corridor. Once they reach the age of puberty, these lemurs should seek out other groups. But there is no more space to disperse. So we are witnessing a loss of genetic diversity. When there are births, the babies are no longer viable. What really scares me is that there is going to be a mass extinction of populations that are too isolated for several years in several very fragmented sites. These animals are protected by law, but there is still deforestation, hunting, etc.
We have identified 28,000 lemurs that people keep without permission. But are people really being punished? So the law is there, but we don’t apply it. There are solutions, but we need political will and good governance. Conservation is a collective task that requires the mobilization and awareness of all of us, but the will of the State is very important. We don’t have an Eiffel Tower or Egyptian pyramids in Madagascar; we have lemurs and their habitats. Frugivorous lemurs also contribute to reforestation. We need them. They are not just animals for tourists.
What measures should be taken?
One of the solutions is to reintroduce other individuals to increase genetic diversity. For this, we should have databases on the genetic diversity of the different populations at the different sites. Apart from that, it is necessary at all costs to fight against fire and deforestation. But there is no conservation without development. We have a Malagasy proverb which says that ” an empty stomach has no ears ». If people are struggling with their livelihoods, conservation will be difficult. Trees are cut and sold to live.
One of the solutions is to develop ecotourism. This is the case, for example, in Andasibe, in eastern Madagascar. We can live in harmony by improving people’s living conditions. This is what we have been doing in Maromizaha (reserve near Andasibe, editor’s note) for six years, with in particular the improvement of educational conditions, and there is no pressure on the forest: no coal, no fire, no hunting. If it is possible on this site, then it is possible in other regions in Madagascar. We are publishing this list to sound the alarm. We must seek funding to save these species and at the same time, funding is needed to improve the lives of local populations.
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