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Averting Lemur Extinctions Amid Madagascar's Political Crisis
Abstract and Figures
The most threatened mammal group on Earth, Madagascar's five endemic lemur families (lemurs are found nowhere else) (1), represent more than 20% of the world's primate species and 30% of family-level diversity. This combination of diversity and uniqueness is unmatched by any other country—remarkable considering that Madagascar is only 1.3 to 2.9% the size of the Neotropics, Africa, or Asia, the other three landmasses where nonhuman primates occur. But lemurs face extinction risks driven by human disturbance of for-est habitats. We discuss these challenges and reasons for hope in light of site-specific, local actions proposed in an emergency con-servation action plan (2). Political Crisis, Remarkable Threat An International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) Red List reassessment found that 94% of lemur species are threatened (2) (Fig. S1 and Table S1), up from 74% in 2008, which makes lemurs the most imperiled group of large vertebrates. Although other large mammals are also under pres-sure, for the vast majority of taxa in an entire infraorder (Lemuriformes) to be threatened is new, notable, and disturbing. This reevaluation has resulted from both the deterioration of habitat and the recent application of genetic data to phylogenetic analyses (increasing the number of extant lemur species from 43 to 101) (3), revealing more species with smaller ranges. This unique primate diversity relies on for-est habitats that are shrinking under persistent anthropogenic destruction and disturbance. Remaining intact forest habitat was estimated to cover 92,200 km 2 in 2010, only 10 to 20% of Madagascar's original forest cover and down from 106,600 km 2 in 1990 (4); much of this habitat is inadequately or not at all protected. Habitat and lemur conservation are interdependent: Lemurs have important ecological roles and are essential to maintaining the island's unique forests. Their loss would likely trigger extinction cascades (5). Challenges to in situ lemur conservation are immense. Madagascar is one of the poor-est countries in the world; more than 92% of Malagasy live on less than U.S. $2/day (6). Although there is a paucity of published data compared to other lemur-related subjects, lemur poaching for bushmeat has drastically increased since the onset of the political crisis in 2009 (7, 8). Illegal logging of rosewood and ebony, mining, and slash-and-burn agriculture are all causing lemur population declines, by habitat loss, fragmentation, and alteration. Protected areas have not been spared; for example, armed timber poachers extracting valuable hardwoods targeted Masoala and Marojejy National Parks in the northeast once local law enforcement broke down (9). Foreign demand, as well as political turmoil and corruption, drive these
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