Endangered Madagascar lemurs illegally kept as pets may threaten species conservation and survival

January 05, 2015

An estimated 28,000 lemurs, the world's most endangered primates, have been illegally kept as pets in urban areas of Madagascar over the past three years, possibly threatening conservation efforts and hastening the extinction of some of lemur species, according to a study by Temple University researchers.

The researchers published the findings, "Live capture and ownership of lemurs in Madagascar: extent and conservation implications," online Jan. 5, in the international conservation journal, Oryx.

Led by Temple biology doctoral student Kim Reuter, the researchers spent three months in Madagascar surveying over 1,000 households in 17 cities and villages across the country's northern half about pet lemur ownership, which is illegal.

"We've been spending millions of dollars on lemur conservation in Madagascar, but despite spending all this money, no one has ever quantified the threat from the in-country pet lemur trade," said Reuter. "If we're spending these millions of dollars there to preserve these species, we should actually examine all the threats facing lemurs."

Reuter, one of the creators of the Lemur Conservation Network for which she serves as director of outreach and content, said that although pet lemur ownership is illegal, enforcement of the law seems to be relatively weak. She said that even though researchers and conservationists are aware of the activity, they have historically focused their efforts on mitigating other threats like deforestation and hunting.

"We estimated that over 28 thousand lemurs are kept illegally as pets in Malagasy cities over the last three years alone," said Reuter, who has recently been appointed to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission's Primate Specialist Group. "You see it everywhere; even government officials and the people who are supposed to be enforcing the ban on pet lemurs own them."

With at least 14 lemur species having populations of less than 10 thousand, Reuter said Madagascar's extensive lemur pet ownership could be quickly driving some species closer to extinction, while even causing some populations to go extinct altogether.

"Now that we know that lemur pet ownership is happening, and happening at this scale, it's an issue that we can't ignore anymore," she said, adding that lemur pet ownership must be factored into future conservation efforts.

"If people are going to keep lemurs as pets, then more outreach, regulation and enforcement is needed to ensure healthier captivity for the lemurs, especially in the big cities," said Reuter, a research fellow at Conservation International while completing her Temple doctoral dissertation. "Conservation programs that don't consider the pet trade of lemurs may unnecessarily increase their costs and risk extinction of the very lemur populations that they are trying to protect."
-end-
In addition to Reuter, the researchers included Temple biology alumna Haley Gilles, Abigail Wills of the Mpingo Conservation & Development Initiative in Tanzania, and Temple Assistant Professor of Biology Brent Sewall. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Explorers Club and a Temple Faculty Senate grant.

Note: Copies of this study are available to working journalists and may be obtained by contacting Preston M. Moretz in Temple's Office of Strategic Marketing and Communications at pmoretz@temple.edu.

Temple University

Related Conservation Articles from Brightsurf:

New guide on using drones for conservation
Drones are a powerful tool for conservation - but they should only be used after careful consideration and planning, according to a new report.

Elephant genetics guide conservation
A large-scale study of African elephant genetics in Tanzania reveals the history of elephant populations, how they interact, and what areas may be critical to conserve in order to preserve genetic diversity of the species.

Measuring the true cost of conservation
BU Professor created the first high-resolution map of land value in the United states.

Environmental groups moving beyond conservation
Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become powerful voices in world environmental politics, little is known of the global picture of this sector.

Hunting for the next generation of conservation stewards
Wildlife ecology students become the professionals responsible for managing the biodiversity of natural systems for species conservation.

Conservation research on lynx
Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes.

New 'umbrella' species would massively improve conservation
The protection of Australia's threatened species could be improved by a factor of seven, if more efficient 'umbrella' species were prioritised for protection, according to University of Queensland research.

Trashed farmland could be a conservation treasure
Low-productivity agricultural land could be transformed into millions of hectares of conservation reserve across the world, according to University of Queensland-led research.

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
Researchers investigate and describe the conservation importance of buildings relative to natural, alternative roosts for little brown bats in Yellowstone National Park.

Applying biodiversity conservation research in practice
One million species are threatened with extinction, many of them already in the coming decades.

Read More: Conservation News and Conservation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.