CITES: Appendix I
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IUCN Red List: L. catta: NT
(What is Red List?)
Key: NT = Near threatened
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)
Photo: Herbert Gustafson
Madagascar is often considered the single highest priority conservation area
on Earth. The only other island with more endemic species is Australia, which
is 13 times the size of Madagascar (Mittermeier et al. 1994). While ring-tailed
lemurs are not the most threatened prosimians in Madagascar, they certainly
are among the most recognizable and preserving them is necessary because of
their role as a flagship species (Mittermeier et al. 1992). The threats facing
ring-tailed lemurs in the wild are not unique, like many other threatened primates,
habitat destruction and hunting are causing the wild population to dwindle
(Mittermeier et al. 1994).
CONSERVATION THREATS & POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
Threat: Human-Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation
Since the arrival of humans on Madagascar approximately 2000 years ago, roughly
80% of the total forest cover has been lost due to extraction of precious hardwoods,
fuelwood and other products as well as to clear land for agricultural and grazing
lands (Mittermeier et al. 1994). Specifically, in the southwest, forest loss
can be attributed to supplying urban centers with fuel wood, charcoal, and
construction wood for the quickly growing human population (Fenn 2003). Forests
are also destroyed by fires ignited to clear grasslands (Harcourt and Thornback
1990). At higher elevations, where the soil quality is much better, the forests
on which ring-tailed lemurs depend are threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture,
fires that burn uncontrollably, and exploitation of firewood (Mittermeier et
al. 1992). Ring-tailed lemurs depend on gallery forests and open forests with
tamarind trees to survive the harsh seasonal environmental conditions (Jolly
et al. 2002; Mertl-Millhollen et al. 2003). Population density is directly
linked to habitat quality, and as these forests are destroyed, ring-tailed
lemurs are unable to recover efficiently (Sussman 1991; Sussman et al. 2003).
Focusing on conserving these resources is necessary because if they are altered
too drastically or destroyed completely, ring-tailed lemurs are not likely
to survive (Mittermeier et al. 1994).
Fortunately, ring-tailed lemurs occur in all of the protected areas within
their range. Many of these preserves offer differing levels of protection,
though, and focused conservation efforts should revolve around increasing awareness
of the seemingly common species that is in reality, threatened (Mittermeier
et al. 1994). Another important conservation strategy has been undertaken at
Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve. Authorities there, with the help of Yale University,
have worked to develop and promote the site as a research and training center
for international students as well as local people. They also collaborate with
local communities to ensure long-term conservation of the unique fauna and
flora. Everyone from school children to college students and professionals
have been trained in research activities at Beza Mahafaly, focusing on applied
field biology as well as management of natural resources (Ratsirarson 2003).
In the peripheral zones of the reserve, livestock breeding and management occurs,
alleviating some of the pressure of traditional patterns of clearing land and
grazing. Furthermore, Beza Mahafaly is being developed to attract tourists
interested in enjoying the regions unique flora and fauna, bringing economic
opportunity to the people living near and within the reserve. Empowering local
communities to become actively involved in conservation of this and other reserves
are driving forces in maintaining habitat for ring-tailed lemurs and other
Malagasy primates (Ratsirarson 2003).
Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)
In some regions, ring-tailed lemurs are hunted with dogs for food. They are
also kept as pets (Mittermeier et al. 1992).
Though the more serious threat to ring-tailed lemurs is human-induced habitat
loss, the success of captive breeding programs could be important to restocking
forested areas if hunting pressure becomes too great and ring-tailed lemur
populations drop significantly. Easily bred and raised in captivity, there
are about 2000 ring-tailed lemurs in zoos around the world (http://www.isis.org).
This large population can serve as source lemurs to be reintroduced if necessary.
Experimental release programs on St. Catherine's Island, Georgia reveal that
captive ring-tailed lemurs released into a natural environment readily adapt
to their new environment and begin to exhibit the broad repertoire of behaviors
seen in wild ring-tailed lemurs (Keith-Lucas et al. 1999). At this time, release
programs are not part of the conservation plan for ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar
, but knowing how captive animals will adapt to natural conditions maintains
release as a future option, if necessary.
Threat: Natural Disasters
Drought is a periodic but serious concern in southern Madagascar. Where rainfall
levels are scarce in normal years, in years of drought, the near absence of
rain has had serious consequences for ring-tailed lemurs (Gould et al. 1999).
From 1991 to 1992, a severe drought was responsible for higher than normal
mortality rates among females and infants and changed the demographic make-up
of the subpopulation at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve. Two years after the
end of the drought, the adult population of ring-tailed lemurs had decreased
by 31%, but within four years, the population seemed to be recovering. Decreases
in food resources and subsequent malnourishment are thought to be the primary
cause of population decline during and after a drought (Gould et al. 1999).
While nothing can be done to prevent a naturally occurring drought, researchers
at Berenty Private Reserve noted that during the same time period, ring-tailed
lemurs were not as adversely affected because of provisioning practices. At
Berenty, where tourism is the major source of income, ring-tailed lemurs have
access to introduced fruit trees and ornamental vegetation in addition to watering
troughs (Simmen et al. 2003). Researchers must make a difficult choice in the
future whether or not to allow the natural population fluctuations caused by
severe drought to occur or to supplement populations suffering from inadequate
resources as was done at Berenty. Ring-tailed lemurs have high levels of
and their reproductive patterns probably evolved because of the harsh environment
in which they live (Jolly 2003). Unless there are serious concerns for the
survival of the population, it is likely that nothing will be done to interfere
with natural catastrophes such as drought.
Threat: Intrinsic Factors
When small subpopulations are
isolated from one another because of some sort of barrier, limited
dispersal can lead to inbreeding and a host of associated problems
(Sussman et al. 2003). Additionally, natural disasters may have more
serious effects on small populations (Gould et al. 1999). Maintaining
gene flow between subpopulations of ring-tailed lemurs is
necessary to ensure their long-term viability in the wild and their
ability to deal with the harsh environment of southern Madagascar.
The forest cover remaining in southern
Madagascar is patchy, at best. Many forest patches have been protected
because of their sacred spiritual value to local peoples (Sussman et al.
2003). These have no official government protection, but they exist,
undisturbed, and are often quite good habitat for ring-tailed lemurs.
Focusing conservation efforts on reconnecting these 1400 forest patches
and making the most of their cultural status could be one way to
preserve more land for ring-tailed lemurs and create contiguous
corridors between patches to stimulate gene flow.
LINKS TO MORE ABOUT CONSERVATION
- Branson retreats in row over lemurs plan for 'eco-island' (The Telegraph; May 7, 2011)
- Richard Branson to create sanctuary for lemurs - 8,000 miles from their home (The Guardian; April 18, 2011)
- Lemurs are a bit like Hollywood stars: beautiful, but a bit stupid (Guardian; August 3, 2010; Video)
- Madagascar's 'lemur lady' on saving endangered animals (CNN; July 22, 2010)
- Madagascar's political turmoil takes toll on forests (Los Angeles Times; November 23, 2009)
- Lemurs Hunted, Eaten Amid Civil Unrest, Group Says (National Geographic News; August 21, 2009)
- Adorable but Endangered: Lemurs Face Possible Extinction (ABC News; July 21, 2009)
- An interview with ringtailed lemur expert Alison Jolly (Mongabay; October 6, 2008)
- Lemurs are key to health of Madagascar's rainforests (Mongabay; June 12, 2008)
- Massive Study of Madagascar Wildlife Released (Newswise; April 9, 2008)
- Conservation is saving lemurs and helping people in Madagascar: An interview with lemur expert Dr. Patricia Wright (Mongabay; May 7, 2007)
- Feral beasts threaten lemurs in Madagascar: An interview with lemur expert Dr. Michelle Sauther (Mongabay; February 7, 2007)
- An interview with lemur expert Charlie Welch (Mongabay; November 5, 2006)
- Climate Change Threatens Lemurs (Mongabay; September 18, 2006)
- Lemur hunting persists in Madagascar, rare primates fall victim to hunger (Mongabay.com; July 17, 2005)
- Links for all species
ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN Lemur catta CONSERVATION
Content last modified: September 21, 2005
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Michelle Sauther.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2005 September 21. Primate Factsheets: Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) Conservation . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/ring-tailed_lemur/cons>. Accessed 2015 September 1.