The lemurs of Madagascar are the most threatened group of mammals in the world as over 85% of their forest habitat has been destroyed. Urgent scientific research is now needed so that we can understand how lemurs cope with this habitat destruction and so we can protect their remaining populations. In this project, I will employ and work with a team of local people to study four species of highly-threatened, nocturnal lemur within the Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park to find out the crucial information required by conservation organisations to manage and protect their remaining populations.
The Northern Giant Mouse Lemur
The Lemurs of Madagascar
Lemurs are a group of over 100 primate species that live exclusively on the island nation of Madagascar. Lemurs come in many varieties, from the iconic ring-tailed lemurs that can be frequently seen in zoos, to the large, noisy Indri, to the tiny nocturnal mouse lemurs, the smallest of all the world’s primates. Like many other primates, lemurs live and depend on trees and Madagascar’s forests provide them with food, shelter and protection. In turn, the lemurs are just as important to Madagascar’s forests, as they help them to grow by spreading the tree’s seeds throughout the landscape. Unfortunately for lemurs, the forests of Madagascar are rapidly disappearing as they are being cut down to accommodate the expansion of farmland and mining operations. Over 85% of Madagascar’s original forest has already vanished and the rates of this deforestation are only increasing. The little forest that remains in Madagascar is now spread out unevenly throughout the country and lemurs are now restricted to pockets of small, isolated forest fragments. Because of this huge loss of habitat over 95% of lemur species are now highly threatened with extinction.
Due to their importance as seed dispersers, the loss of lemurs would be catastrophic for Madagascar’s forests, and if lemurs were to become extinct, many other species that depend on them would soon follow. The threats that the lemurs face is also of grave concern for the people of Madagascar as many poor communities in remote areas depend on eco-tourism for their livelihoods. The majority of people that visit Madagascar come solely to see the iconic lemurs in their natural habitat, and so if lemurs were to disappear, the welfare of local Malagasy people would also suffer.
The plight of lemurs is now critical and immediate conservation action is needed to ensure the survival of these charismatic animals. In order to help protect Madagascar’s remaining lemur populations, we first need to understand how exactly lemurs are affected by habitat destruction and second, if there are certain ways that lemurs are able to adapt to this change in their environment. Unfortunately, many lemurs, particularly the small nocturnal species, have yet to be studied in any detail. We therefore know very little about these lemurs and how the ongoing habitat loss impacts on their populations, behaviour and health. As this knowledge is required for their conservation, scientific research of these little-known species is urgently required before it is too late for them.
The Sahamalaza Sportive Lemur
My name is Dan Hending and I am a conservation biologist and PhD (doctoral) student at the University of Bristol and Bristol Zoological Society in the United Kingdom. I first started learning about lemurs as an undergraduate student at the University of the West of England and I was immediately fascinated by their beauty and uniqueness. I was also shocked by the scale of the devastation of their forest home and it was then that I decided that I wanted to work with lemurs, to study them and to be actively involved in their conservation. Since then I have completed a masters by research (MSc) on the Endangered Sambirano mouse lemur that inhabits Madagascar’s Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park, and I subsequently worked on several other lemur conservation projects in Madagascar. After spending so much time around lemurs in their natural environment, I am now more determined than ever to do what I can to ensure that lemurs and their forest homes have a secure future.
For my PhD project I will be heading back out to Madagascar to the Sahamalaza-Iles Radama National Park, a remote, under-developed location in the island’s north west. Upon arriving in the National Park, I will hire people from local villages as guides and field assistants and I will assemble a research team to help me to study four species of small, nocturnal lemur:
· Sahamalaza sportive lemur
· Northern giant mouse lemur
· Sambirano mouse lemur
· Fat-tailed dwarf lemur
These species are all highly threatened with extinction and it is unclear how they tolerate the degradation of their habitat that is becoming increasingly common. Three of these species are found nowhere else other than this north-western region of Madagascar, and it is therefore crucial that we understand the dynamics of these populations and protect them as best as we can. For this project, I will be investigating the population sizes, habitat preferences, behaviours and physiological health of these four species within a range of different forests throughout the National Park. I will specifically be looking at how these factors change among different forest fragments and I will be looking at the relationships between habitat quality, forest structure and behavioural and physical changes in the lemurs.
I have chosen to study these four species in particular as they are under-studied in comparison to many other lemurs and we know very little about their ability to adapt to changes in their habitat brought on by deforestation. Furthermore, north western Madagascar is known for its high levels of forest destruction and therefore we must act quickly in order to protect this region’s remaining lemurs and their forest homes. The research that this project involves will provide the necessary information that we need to estimate the population sizes of these species within the National park, information which will later allow us to monitor these populations in the long-term. Additionally, the results of this project will highlight those forest areas most-degraded by human activity and those most-suitable as lemur habitat. This will allow two conservation organisations, The European Association for the Study and Conservation of lemur (AEECL) and Mikajy Natiora, that work within the National park to restore these areas though a long-term reforestation and habitat management program.
The Sambirano Mouse Lemur
Despite the importance of conservation projects for the survival of threatened species, the work that they involve is very expensive and there are very limited funds available for students to cover their research costs. I have so far managed to obtain a small but important grant from Global Wildlife Conservation’s Lemur Conservation Action Fund to cover some of my costs, but I will require additional funds if I am to ensure that this project is successful. That is why I have decided to set up this crowdfunding campaign to ask for your support for my lemur conservation research.
All money raised from this crowdfunding campaign will facilitate the practical element of the fieldwork and will be used to provide valuable employment for Malagasy people. Specifically, money raised will be used to pay for:
· Wages for guides and cook: local people will be employed for the duration of the project to assist with data-collection and to ensure the safety and health of the research team.
· Wages for hired Malagasy research assistants who will complete research in fulfilment of their own academic doctoral degree alongside myself.
· Subsistence for all members of the research team.
· Entry fees and permits for research within the National Park.
The Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur
I thank you very much for any contribution that you are able to make towards my research project! By donating you are helping to reveal important scientific information about lemurs and you are directly supporting in their conservation!
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