The ring-tailed lemur of Madagascar is “disappearing right under our noses” as the iconic animal is hunted and trapped to extinction and its forest home is destroyed by people hunting for sapphires.
Lemurs are the most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet but it was thought the resourceful ring-tailed species – which featured in the hit cartoon film series Madagascar and the BBC’s recent Planet Earth II documentary – would be the last to die out.
However, despite their ability to survive in some of the harshest environments on the Indian Ocean island, they have been mostly reduced to small groups, researchers warned in a paper called Going, Going Gone: Is the Iconic Ring-railed Lemur Headed for Imminent Extirpation? in the journal Primate Conservation.
Populations of more than 200 were found in just three places with 12 other groups of 30 animals or less. At another 15 sites, they had either died out or were in danger of doing so. In total there are now believed to be less than 2,500 individuals.
One of the researchers, Professor Michelle Sauther, who has studied the animal for 30 years, said: “This is very troubling. They are disappearing right under our noses. “It’s likely that the ring-tailed lemur population will eventually collapse.
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