The island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa is the only place in the world to find lemurs in the wild. It is home to more than 100 species of the animals. Unfortunately, these fuzzy, big-eyed mammals are some of the most threatened animals on the planet. But now, scientists have come up with a three-year plan to save them.
A team of 19 researchers has proposed setting up 30 protected areas for lemurs. Local communities would help run the sites. The areas would be safe havens for the primates (a type of mammal that includes monkeys and apes). There, they could be studied and protected.
ONE THREAT AFTER ANOTHER
For decades, the animals’ forest home has been under attack. Illegal logging and clearing of land for farming has wiped out large portions of their habitat, or home in nature. Poachers also illegally hunt lemurs for food. Because of these threats, more than 90 percent of lemur species are in danger of becoming extinct.
Additionally, Madagascar is a poor country with many conflicts within its government. The nation’s problems have made it hard to protect the lemurs living on the island.
The protected sites proposed by the scientists would keep lemurs safe while their populations bounce back. But the sites could also promote ecotourism (sightseeing expeditions designed to leave nature unharmed) and attract visitors from around the world. The money these tourists would bring could help local people and support conservation efforts.
Lemurs are already Madagascar’s number-one tourist attraction. Scientists want to build on people’s interest to help the animals.
Christoph Schwitzer, a researcher at the Bristol Zoological Society in the United Kingdom, led the creation of the proposal. He says the plan is almost ready to be put into action, but it will need additional support to really get off the ground. “We have the people, we have the place, we have the ideas—we are just lacking funding,” he says.
Schwitzer’s group estimates that setting up the protected areas will cost $7.6 million. But they believe the high price tag is worth it to save these animals.