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Pet Lemur Survey

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Marni LaFleur
added a research item
Madagascar has several tourist facilities with translocated lemurs. Indri and sifaka are popular with tourists but have notoriously low survival outside of the habitats where they occur. We used social media to determine the types of interactions people engage in with these Critically Endangered animals, and to understand the number and turn over that may occur. We recommend only visiting indriid lemurs in the wild.
Marni LaFleur
added a research item
Primates are extracted from the wild for the pet trade across the world. In Madagascar, lemurs are kept as illegal pets and an understanding of lemur pet ownership at the national level is lacking. In 2013 and 2016, we undertook a national survey in 11 of Madagascar's 22 administrative regions (n = 28 towns) with 1,709 households. To our knowledge, this is the first national survey of the household ownership of pet primates in a country where they are endemic. In the 1.5 years prior to being surveyed, 8% ± 4% (towns as replicates) of respondents had seen a captive lemur while a further 0.7% ± 0.5% of respondents had owned one personally. We estimate that 33,428 ± 24,846 lemurs were kept in Malagasy households in the six months prior to our survey efforts, with 18,462 ± 12,963 of these pet lemurs estimated in urban household alone. Rates of lemur ownership did not differ by province but increased with the human population of a town and with the popularity of the town on Flickr (a proxy indicator for tourism). We found that the visibility of pet lemur ownership did not differ across the country, but it did increase with the size of the town and popularity with tourists. Areas with visible pet lemurs were not always the areas with the highest rates of pet lemur ownership, highlighting that many pet lemurs are hidden from the general public. Our study highlights the need for conservation programs to consider both the proportion of inhabitants that own pet lemurs and the total number of lemurs that are potentially being kept as pets in those towns. We close by noting that for some species, even just a small amount of localized live extraction for pet ownership could be enough to cause localized population extinctions over time. Moreover, an urgent response is needed to combat a recent and alarming rise in illegal exploitation of biodiversity across Madagascar.
Kim Reuter
added a research item
Primates are kept as pets for various reasons including as indicators of wealth. Ownership of primates can also be influenced by religion. In Madagascar, thousands of lemurs are kept as pets, but the roles of wealth and religion in the ownership of captive lemurs have not been explored. We use quantitative and qualitative data to examine these aspects of ownership. Quantitative data were collected (July to August 2016) in households (n = 596) of 12 urban and rural towns in Madagascar using semi-structured interviews. International standards for research ethics were followed. Research was approved by an ethics oversight committee. We also opportunistically visited 13 religious facilities. Qualitative data were used to frame the context of the quantitative data. We found that pet lemur owners do not speak about their lemurs as a symbol of wealth, but non-owners associate pet lemurs with wealth. Therefore, status/wealth may be a motivating factor in the ownership of pet lemurs. We also found evidence that Catholic entities in Madagascar sometimes take in captive lemurs when the owner can no longer care for the animal (be-ing viewed as animal-friendly institutions). However, we did not find evidence of religion (institutional or traditional) influencing the ownership of pet lemurs.
Kim Reuter
added 3 research items
Little is known about the legal ownership of lemurs in Madagascar. We surveyed in-country legal captive facilities for the species kept in captivity, resources needed, and the roles the facilities play in lemur conservation. We found that Lemur catta and were the most common species at these facilities and most were in good condition. Facilities may keep lemurs for reintroduction, income, and educational outreach. Facilities probably lack the resources needed to care for lemurs and the capacity to accommodate the volume of lemurs confiscated from the illegal pet trade.
The live capture of primates is occurring throughout the tropics and can be a threat to their conservation. Primates are owned as pets for a variety of reasons. Studies of the motivations for primate ownership have been conducted in several countries where they are endemic, but no study has examined this issue in Madagascar. Madagascar is home to the highest number of threatened primate taxa in any one country, and an estimated 28,000 lemurs were kept in illegal captivity from 2010 to mid-2013. We aimed to expand knowledge about the motivations of lemur ownership in Madagascar. Data were collected via a web-based survey (n = 229 respondents) and from the websites and social media pages of 25 hotels. We found that many lemurs (45%) were seen on the premises of a business or in a private home (27%). Many lemurs were perceived to be kept as personal pets (37%) or for money-making or tourism purposes (20%). When lemurs were used for money-making, owners could receive indirect (72% of the time) and direct benefits (28%). Hotels showing photographs of captive lemurs on their websites and social media sites charged USD 25.69 more per night for a standard room than hotels that did not show such photographs. We found little evidence that captive lemurs are kept as a social status symbol, for captive breeding, or as a fallback food. These findings provide evidence that the motivations for the ownership of, usually illegal, captive lemurs is typically linked with money-making or with the desire to have a lemur as a pet. These data can help target new outreach programs.
Correspondence: We call for urgent action to increase government effectiveness in fighting Madagascar’s illegal trade in live lemurs (see go.nature. com/2i6hvor). More funding is needed to investigate the issue, its extent and the factors behind it. Facilities to rehabilitate confiscated lemurs must be improved, and more international non-governmental organizations should contribute. Exploitation is pushing species such as the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) towards extinction in the wild. Thousands of lemurs are kept openly as illegal pets. Touching and feeding the animals is common to encourage tourists, even in protected areas — despite a law forbidding human contact with lemurs in those areas. Environmental degradation is costing Madagascar up to 10% of its gross domestic product. A sapphire rush last year resulted in 45,000 miners digging in its protected areas. Organized poaching is decimating its sea-turtle populations, and the illegal pet trade is set to wipe out the last 100 wild ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora). The country’s weak opposition to the illegal export of rosewood may cause it to face new sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is time for the government to enforce its own laws and put Madagascar’s unique heritage above short-term financial gains.