Why you should care
Because you shouldn’t have to eat endangered species to survive.
Pet Love: A global look at cozy relationships between people and animals.
I was walking down the street in Manakara, a small town on Madagascar’s east coast, and saw two adorable miniature mouse lemurs that could fit in my cupped hands. But they weren’t frolicking in a tree. No, a couple of kids had plucked them from the forest and were trying to hawk them to tourists. But for-sale signs aren’t the only thing real-life King Juliens have to worry about. In fact,
some people in Madagascar hunt and eat lemurs.
Lemurs (which go for about $5 a pop) are endemic to this biodiversity hot spot, and the vast majority of its 105 species (and counting) are endangered. But this isn’t your traditional poaching-of-endangered-animals scenario. Lemurs aren’t (usually) being sold on the black market or prized for some sort of ancient healing remedy. People are just hungry. And poor: Madagascar ranks abysmally on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, at 155 out of 187 countries, and it’s the seventh-poorest country in the world by GDP per capita. There simply aren’t enough alternative sources of protein to go around. Tree-dwelling lemurs are a natural answer.
For many Malagasy communities living near the forest, lemurs comprise the second-biggest source of protein behind kenriks, a type of bird, and account for around the equivalent of nine or 10 burgers a week per family, according to one researcher. Hedgehogs and insects follow lemurs — not exactly the biggest meal options out there. Even so, hunting lemurs is highly controversial, because it threatens population numbers. They are also a cornerstone of the much-needed tourism industry.
But not all people blame hunger. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, the co-vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s primate specialist group in Madagascar, points to a lack of education and law enforcement. He says they either know they won’t get caught and punished, or they simply don’t realize that just like giraffes, lions and polar bears elsewhere, lemurs offer a “unique value” to the country. Some believe the solution could be chicken if they can successfully vaccinate flocks against the deadly Newcastle disease.
Without addressing food insecurity, you can kiss lemur conservation good-bye.