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Political unrest leads to peril for Madagascar's lemurs

November 30, 2009 |  9:03 pm

Madagascar's lemurs are facing a crisis, the result of a perfect storm of factors that have left them perilously close to extinction. Our colleague Robyn Dixon reports on the damage that's been done, and what one Madagascan scientist-turned-spy is doing to try to repair it; here's an excerpt:

Lemur There are dozens of lemur species in Madagascar, 99 at last count, some of them not much bigger than a mouse, most of them critically endangered. The largest lemurs are most vulnerable, because they need more food.

Environmentalists predict that Madagascar will be the next Haiti, a country suffering catastrophic deforestation and environmental degradation because of poor governance.

The lemurs face multiple threats.

In some parts of the country they're considered bad luck, which means that villagers kill them on sight. In other parts, where they're not taboo, they're hunted for food.

Climate change and deforestation are leaving the landscape parched and are destroying habitats.

Logging mafias, alleged to have close links to the government and to Chinese traders, bribe or threaten overstretched, poorly paid park rangers and take precious timber, with devastating results.

The current government was installed in March by the military, which toppled President Marc Ravalomanana and replaced him with his rival, Andry Rajoelina, then the mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. Negotiations on a power-sharing compromise have stalled.

The U.S., the European Union and the World Bank responded to the coup by imposing sanctions, including suspension of USAID's environmental programs. USAID, the U.S. State Department's development agency, had been supporting the Ministry of the Environment, Water, Forests and Tourism, helping the country protect its forests and fauna.


Photo: A sifaka in Madagascar's Berenty Reserve.  Credit: Graeme Williams / Unicef/WFP

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