Every year in October, Madagascar celebrates World Lemur Day, including a week full of lemur- and conservation-themed festivities leading up to the day. The goal is to raise awareness about the value of lemurs as a unique natural heritage for Madagascar. Lemurs are known for being charismatic primates and are a favorite at zoos worldwide, but they are at risk and face an uncertain future. A staggering 98 percent of lemur species are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List, and of those, 31 percent are listed as Critically Endangered!
One of the major aims of World Lemur Day is to instill pride among the Malagasy people for lemurs. During my time in Madagascar, many locals from remote villages have asked me what the lemurs are like where I am from (I am from the US), which demonstrates that in some areas of Madagascar, there is a pervasive misunderstanding regarding the uniqueness of local wildlife. The growth and spread of these festivities has been incredibly important for making it known that all 110+ lemur species are endemic to Malagasy forests, making the island and its fauna and flora exceptional.
In addition, attention garnered from this day is used to help improve the economy through increasing ecotourism, which is a straightforward way to ensure the future survival of lemurs in Madagascar. The promotion of ecotourism leads to lemur and forest conservation through revenue generated from tourists. This ultimately produces an economic value assigned to the flora and fauna, leading locals to actively protect these vital habitats and species. Unfortunately, the pandemic has eliminated the tourism industry in Madagascar, but there is hope that it will rebound strongly once the pandemic is under control and international flights recommence.
Another World Lemur Day aim is to educate the general public worldwide by generating interest and curiosity in lemurs and their conservation. For example, you may know of a few different lemur species from visiting zoos, but with over 110 different lemur species we still have so much to learn. Many of these species have never been studied in wild, and so it is critically important that we work towards their conservation and that of their remaining habitat. Furthermore, lemurs play a large role in maintaining forest diversity through pollination and seed dispersal, and in fact, some tree species are entirely dependent on lemurs for these purposes. This symbiotic relationship actively assists in generating new trees and/or expanding forest buffer zones and corridors, especially in areas where lemurs are coping with habitat degradation and fragmentation.
Ultimately, World Lemur Day aims to publicize the reality of hardships faced by lemurs, their habitat, and the local Malagasy people, but also to show that there is hope for their survival so that future generations may continue to see and study these remarkable species. Through San Diego Zoo Global, we work towards these aims while also creating jobs, training individuals as “para-ecologist” technicians, and improving economic prospects for the local communities in some of the most remote locations in northeast Madagascar. Leap over to our lemur page to start learning more about these unique prosimians!
Tim Eppley is a postdoctoral fellow at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous blog, Lemurs on the Brink.