Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa, is a beautiful hotspot for biodiversity. It is estimated that 90% of the plants and animals living in Madagascar are endemic, meaning they occur nowhere else in the world! Unfortunately, the island nation (about the size of the state of Texas) and its inhabitants are facing some extreme threats.
While it may be rich in biodiversity, the Malagasy people are among the poorest in the world. It is estimated that over 92% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. A military coup in 2009 caused further economic instability, and the subsequent anarchy increased the illegal logging of rosewood. One of the few reliable sources of income, thousands of Malagasy people flocked to the rosewood forests to support their families. In addition to the problem of rapid deforestation, many people turned to lemurs as a source of protein, illegally hunting them for bush meat.
Lemurs are the most endangered mammals in the world. Of the 101 species of lemur in Madagascar, IUCN considers 60 of them endangered or critically endangered. Another 20 species are considered vulnerable. Lemurs are prosimians, meaning that they are primates, but still maintain many “primitive” characteristics of other mammals such as the bicornate uterus. Like other primates, they do possess opposable thumbs and fingernails rather than claws. Oakland Zoo houses two species of lemurs, Ring-tailed lemurs and Sclaters or Blue-Eyed lemurs. Blue eyed lemurs have been listed as one of the 25 most endangered primates for over 6 years.
Conserving lemurs is critically important for the biodiversity of Madagascar. While logging of Rosewood is illegal, the political unrest that has been extant in Madagascar for over 4 years has allowed it to not only continue, but to increase. Rosewood is valued for its rich color and hard texture, making it good for furniture. While the supply comes from Madagascar, the demand for this wood is right here in the US and throughout the western world. Recently, the Malagasy people elected a president and hopes are high that a stable government system will rein in the illegal logging and poaching practices that have become commonplace.
However, the fact remains that rosewood is mainly sold to westerners. If the demand were lower or nonexistent, the motivation for deforestation would be almost nonexistent. So what can you do to protect lemurs in Madagascar? Do not purchase furniture made from rosewood, and educate your friends and family about the plight of the lemurs. Email or call Genny Greene (firstname.lastname@example.org or call (510)632-9529 ext. 167) to learn how you can win a special Behind-the-Scenes visit with our very own lemurs here at Oakland Zoo. Your special visit will include an actual in-person live painting made by our lemurs made just for you. All proceeds will go to lemur conservation efforts in Madagascar (see below for more detailed information). And don’t forget to go see the new IMAX film – Island of the Lemurs which opens on April 4th.
**All proceeds from the raffle benefit lemur conservation through Centre Val Bio. Centre Val Bio is a research station in Madagascar run by Dr. Patricia Wright who has been studying lemurs for more than two decades. She is the founder of Centre Val Bio and the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments which led to the establishment of Ranomafauna National Park in Madagascar. Dr. Wright was the sole scientific advisor for the upcoming IMAX film “Island of the Lemurs” which will be released on April 4th. For more information: http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/index.html