10/12/2014

The world campaigns to conserve lemurs

Bristol Zoo celebrates the first ever World Lemur Day.

Friday 31st October marks the first ever World Lemur Day, a celebration spearheaded by the Malagasy primate expert group Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates (GERP), to raise awareness of lemur diversity and highlight critical conservation needs at both national and international levels. More than just a celebration, World Lemur Day is also intended to show the Malagasy government how the rest of the world is interested in lemurs; encouraging the government to conserve them.

Friday 31st October marks the first ever World Lemur Day, a celebration spearheaded by the Malagasy primate expert group Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates (GERP), to raise awareness of lemur diversity and highlight critical conservation needs at both national and international levels.

More than just a celebration, World Lemur Day is also intended to show the Malagasy government how the rest of the world is interested in lemurs; encouraging the government to conserve them.

The Malagasy President came into office in late January of this year and lemur conservationists the world over await positive changes to protect these primates.

Timothy Smart, British Ambassador to Madagascar, said: “Lemurs are now the world’s most threatened group of primates. We are urging President Rajaonarimampianina and the Government of Madagascar to increase drastically their efforts to protect lemurs and their remaining forest habitats which are a unique natural and cultural heritage for all Malagasies and the World. We stand ready to assist them in these efforts.”

The largest threat to lemurs is habitat destruction (caused by man) and also subsistence hunting. This is not to be confused with commercial hunting; Malagasy communities hunt lemurs for survival.

It is perhaps a coincidence that World Lemur Day falls on the same day as Halloween, but it fits well: The word ‘Lemures’ was used in Roman mythology for ghosts or spirits of the dead, and conservationists the world over are trying to ensure this does not become a reality for these primates.

Richard Branson, who is known for conserving lemurs on his private islands in the Caribbean,said: “There probably used to be 150 of these magnificent lemur species, some bigger than gorillas, and sadly we're now down to 101 species. As their habitat disappears and they continue to get killed for food, there's a real danger that the number could drop well below 100. World Lemur Day will hopefully raise awareness of the dangers and make sure this never happens. As a species, we must make sure that no other species on this planet is ever lost again.”

A budget of only $7.6 million is required to implement the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s conservation strategy for lemurs and their forest habitats. The funds collected from this World Lemur Day will contribute to that budget.

Christoph Schwitzer, Director of Conservation at the Bristol Zoological Society and vice chairman of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, responsible for primates in Madagascar, said: “Madagascar is unique in having such a large number of primate species that only occur there and nowhere else in the world, but it is also unique in the extreme level of threat that these animals are facing. The IUCN lemur conservation strategy gives us the toolset to fight lemur extinctions. We now need to pull together all available resources and implement it!”

Bristol Zoological Society will be joining in the celebrations of World Lemur Day on Friday 31st October, by holding a number of lemur-related activities at the Wild Place Project’s Madagascar exhibit, which has its own Madagascan school hut and market stall.

The Wild Place Project is home to mongoose lemurs, which are Critically Endangered and ring-tailed lemurs, which have recently gone from being Vulnerable to Endangered.

Guests visiting the Wild Place Project on Friday will also be able to see the lemurs tucking into pumpkins. Will Walker, animal manager at the wildlife attraction said: “Lemurs love to play with pumpkins and eat the succulent flesh and plump seeds, which are a great addition to their regular diet as they are high in vitamins A, C, potassium, protein and fibre.”

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