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28 / 10 / 2016
The future of lemurs could be safeguarded

The future of lemurs could be safeguarded, and the IUCN Red List status of a number of species downlisted, thanks to a significant donation to the IUCN’s ‘Save our Species Fund’ from a private Geneva-based foundation.

This is according to Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Bristol Zoological Society’s Director of Conservation and lead author of the IUCN Lemur Conservation Strategy – a high-impact document positioning lemurs as one of the most threatened groups of mammals on earth.

The Lemur Conservation Strategy includes some 30 individual lemur action plans across Madagascar – a large island nation east of Africa – to help local communities protect their own natural resources on a grassroots level, including giving them training in how food cultivation methods can be adapted and to prevent poaching of lemurs for subsistence.

The generous financial support will enable the implementation of more advanced protection of some of the most threatened species, some of which are now in very low numbers and could otherwise go extinct within the next decade.

The announcement coincides with celebrations for World Lemur Festival (27–28 October) and provides a major lifeline for Madagascar’s iconic species, their habitats and the communities depending on them.

“Helping to secure this major support is by far the biggest achievement in my conservation career,” said Dr Schwitzer, who is also deputy chair and Red List Authority Coordinator for the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group.

“From January 2017 we will implement a six-year plan to advance the current projects in Madagascar and implement new ones. Without securing this funding, this would not have been possible.

“Effective conservation of lemurs is a challenge, especially coupled with the recurring political crises in Madagascar. The political environment is putting a strain on everyone from an economic and social perspective.  

“The increasing poverty levels in Madagascar have resulted in an increasing rate of lemur poaching - often through desperation - not something that locals want to do. We need to do all we can to offer different methods of food cultivation – for example, providing equipment and training. We need to act now, or risk losing a species of lemur for the first time in several hundred years.”

Following the support, next steps now include calls for proposals as well as a meeting in Madagascar for all stakeholders to come together and discuss how the action plans can be implemented.

“It’s vital we define how we are going to deliver over the next six years”, explained Dr Schwitzer. “We have this fantastic opportunity to make a huge difference. This is a very positive milestone for our Lemur Conservation Strategy.”

The IUCN SOS Lemurs Fund already supports 11 projects, which include Bristol Zoo’s field conservation work based on the Sahamalaza Peninsula, north-west Madagascar. The Zoo is part of a consortium that maintains two field stations in the Sahamalaza – Iles Radama National Park.

Bristol Zoo is in partnership with 30 European Zoos to help safeguard the future of Madagascar’s lemurs as part of the AEECL - the Association Européenne pour l’Etude et la Conservation des Lémuriens. Dr Schwitzer and his team are heavily focused on field-based research, community-based development programmes with local people and maintaining a population of lemurs in human care.

Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, Director SOS – Save Our Species and Deputy Director IUCN Global Species Programme said: “We are extremely grateful for the support we have just received. Of course Madagascar faces other environmental and developmental challenges. However, this news represents an important step in the larger journey of helping Malagasy people build resilience and wealth by cherishing their unique natural heritage.

“With this support we are given an exciting challenge and this initiative is unique in many ways. We are given the means to implement a large scale conservation programme for an entire group of species working with a broad range of organisations; this will be done in a coordinated way and we shall be able to track the impact of our collective action. It is also a confirmation that we are providing an appealing model for donors who want to contribute to the preservation of our environment, in particular the survival of wildlife, making the best use of IUCN’s unique niche and expertise.”

Of the 111 surviving lemur species, 24 are now classified Critically Endangered, 49 are Endangered, and 20 are Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, equating to 94 percent of the world’s lemur species for which sufficient data were available to enable their assessment against the Red List criteria.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public to fund its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.