Lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, meaning they are unique to that island country – the 90+ species of lemurs occur naturally nowhere else in the world. In fact, approximately 90% of Madagascar’s total plant and animal species are also endemic. Sadly, this remarkable diversity of animal and plant life is in critical danger due to deforestation caused primarily by subsistence agricultural practices such as slash and burn. As a result of this remarkable endemicity and disappearing forest, Madagascar is one of the planet’s highest priority biodiversity hotspots.
Man arrived on Madagascar only around 2,000 years ago, yet today only about 10% of the original vegetation remains. Human pressures continue to threaten the island’s varied and unique ecosystems, from rainforest to spiny desert. The human impact is compounded by the desperate poverty of Madagascar’s 22 million inhabitants, many of whom rely on unsustainable agricultural and forest use practices which destroy animal habitats or the animals themselves. Solutions for these two critical problems in Madagascar – threats to biodiversity and human poverty – must both be considered, if any conservation initiative is to succeed.
Duke Lemur Center (DLC) has had an active conservation program for 20 years, both in the US and in Madagascar. DLC is a founding and managing member of the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG) which is a consortium of zoos and other institutions committed to supporting conservation in Madagascar. MFG projects in Madagscar include Betampona Natural Reserve, and Parc Ivoloina. Parc Ivoloina, is a regional conservation center on Madagascar’s east coast which includes a small zoo, and focuses on activities such as environmental education and sustainable agricultural practices. Betampona is a protected natural forest, and also the site of the first reintroduction of captive born lemurs back to the wild, a collaborative DLC/MFG effort. The reintroduction has evolved into an important program of conservation research and ecological monitoring, with education and reforestation components linked to nearby Ivoloina. Thanks in part to DLC support and MFG presence in Betampona, the reserve has been protected from illegal wood cutting and poaching of wildlife.
DLC is also committed to a training or capacity building program. On a regular basis, Malagasy nationals – students, professors, conservation professionals, and veterinarians – have received support to study, do research, and receive training at Duke and DLC.
At DLC, scientific research and captive breeding programs support conservation efforts, increasing our knowledge about lemur biology, reproduction, social behavior, veterinary medicine, diets and breeding management. DLC is also a major resource for undergraduate and graduate student education. Some students who begin with projects at DLC, move on to do field research in Madagascar and afterwards continue to work as primatologists or as conservation professionals.
Starting in 2012, DLC began yet another conservation initiative, in the SAVA region of northeastern Madagascar. The SAVA project uses the same multifaceted, community based conservation technique which is implemented by the MFG at Ivoloina and Betampona. DLC’s goal in the SAVA is to help protect the biota in a different and extremely biologically important region of Madagascar.
Click here to read the latest IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group (PSG) and International Primatological Society (IPS) report, Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2012–2014.
Click here to listen to a collection of songs from the heart from Razia Said. They were written to raise awareness about the urgent problem of climate change in Madagascar. Welcome to Zebu.
Click here to read what is going on at the Duke Lemur Center Vegetable Garden.