Farm in Madagascar.Photo Sam Zeveloff ©Copyright 2009
The future survival of ring-tailed lemurs (lemur catta) is
uncertain. The IUCN Red List Assessment has ring-tailed lemurs
classified as “vulnerable”. With less than 10% of the original
forests remaining in Madagascar, habitat destruction is the number one
factor that threatens the extinction of all lemur species. Despite
crippling poverty, Malagasy human populations are increasing, making
habitat loss even more significant.
The most destructive farming technique in Madagascar is “slash and
burn agriculture” also called tavy. This technique involves
cutting down the forests and then burning the trees. The ash is
used to add nutrients into the soil, enabling the cultivation of rice (a
staple food). Unfortunately, the nutrients are quickly depleted
from the soil, forcing the farmer to move onto yet another plot of land,
and therefore destroying even more primary forest. Forest
destruction also leads to erosion which flushes useless soil into
neighboring rivers and lakes and further compromises the ability of the
Malagasy to farm.
Rice farming in Madagascar ©Copyright 2009 wildmadagascar.org
Another method of habitat destruction is selective logging.
Certain trees are desired most for making furniture and other wood
products. Although logging is illegal in protected areas, it is
difficult to always enforce and is still a problem. The production
of charcoal from trees contributes as well to the habitat loss, as does
forest leveling due to long term mining projects.
Soil erosion in Madagascar ©Copyright 2009 wildmadagascar.org
While the lemurs living amongst the destruction are obviously gone,
the lemurs that live in forests adjacent to the desolation are not safe
either. As forests continue to become fragmented, quality of
habitat is becoming more of a problem. With a shattered ecosystem,
forests are more susceptible to invasive plant and animal species.
In Berenty Reserve, ring-tailed lemurs have been observed to feed on
Leucaena leucocephala which is an introduced plant species that causes
alopecia in the lemurs. Close proximity of human populations and
domestic animals to lemur populations introduces new diseases and
changes lemur behavior.
Cattle in dry season Photo LCF ©Copyright 2009
The smaller, more fragmented lemur populations are also more at risk
during natural disasters. Living in dry forests, ring-tailed
lemurs are particularly vulnerable to drought. With weakened
immune systems and weakened social networks it is harder to bounce back
after natural disasters.
Ring-tailed lemurs are also hunted for food and confiscated for the
pet trade. As lemur populations become more fragmented through
habitat destruction, hunting becomes more damaging. Lemurs
imprisoned in the pet trade are often fed unhealthy diets, abused,
chained to trees, and can become aggressive with the owners once
reaching sexual maturity. While this is obviously a problem for
their individual welfare, lemurs taken from the wild can no longer
genetically and socially contribute to an already threatened population.