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While being at the top of any list is good in most circumstances, in the case of Madagascar's 103 known species of lemurs it is a 'kiss of death' - Literally! That's because a shocking study released by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission earlier this week, revealed that 23 species of the primates are now 'critically endangered', 52 are endangered and 19 are vulnerable. These dire statistics mean that the primates are the most endangered vertebrates on earth - More so than any other mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird or bony fish!
A similar study carried out just seven years ago, had categorized 8 on the critically endangered, 18 on the endangered and 17 on the vulnerable list. The rapid demise of the species can be directly attributed to the destruction of their tropical forest habitat caused by accelerated illegal human logging. In addition to that the primates are also increasingly being hunted down and served as a delicacy in local restaurants.
Among the ones that recently joined the severely critical list is the Indri - A species considered sacred amongst the people of Madagascar, it is the largest of all lemurs. Also new on the list is the world's smallest lemur. Called Madame Berthe's Mouse lemur, it weighs a mere 30 grams and is also believed to be the world's smallest primate. Also on the brink of extinction, is the Blue-Eyed Black lemur, which happens to be the only primate besides humans, to sport blue eyes. While all these are critically endangered, it is the Northern Sportive lemur that needs help the fastest - That's because with just 18 known members of the species left, it is the rarest of them all. One piece of good news that did come out from this otherwise dire study was the discovery of a new species of yet-to-be named mouse lemur in Eastern Madagascar.
Turning these dire statistics around may not be easy. That's because the absence of a stable government since 2009, has resulted in a breakdown in control and enforcement and a severe economic downturn. As a result, areas that had been designated 'national parks' to help protect the animals that inhabit this biodiverse island, are now regularly being pillaged by locals, struggling to survive.
Ironically, the demise of the lemurs will only make things worse. That's because the country's main source of income comes from tourism and since lemurs can only be found in the wild on this beautiful island, they are one of the biggest tourist draws. Maybe the locals will realize this and try turn this scary trend around.
Lemurs along with Bush Babies and Lorises are small primates that are classified as Promisians, a word that loosely translates to pre-primates or before monkeys. While ancient lemurs were rumored to be as large as gorillas and weigh up to 400 pounds, today's lemurs are much smaller, ranging in size from 15 pounds to just over an ounce in size.
With the exception of the Ring-Tailed lemur, the animals are largely arboreal, spending most of their time at the top the rainforest canopy. While a majority of the species is diurnal, some especially the smaller mouse and dwarf lemurs prefer to forage for food in the safety of the darkness at night.
Lemurs get their name from the word Lemures, the Roman mythological word for ghosts or spirits. First applied to a slender Loris because of its nocturnal habits it was later tagged to the whole group of Promisians regardless, of their sleeping patterns.
Resources: Dailymail.co.uk, CSM.com,wikipedia.com, lemurs.us