There are 111 species and subspecies of lemur, and those are just the ones we know about. Right now, 105 of those lemurs are under threat of extinction.
This is the conclusion of the "Primate Specialist Group", an international group of experts convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the BBC reports. If their findings hold up under peer review, it would make lemurs the most endangered primates on the planet. It would also suggest nothing much has changed since a 2012 assessment, which ranked lemurs as the most endangered group of vertebrates, period.
Despite being an incredibly diverse group, lemurs inhabit just one island – Madagascar. While this makes for a very impressive wildlife scene, their relatively small range puts them at added risk of extinction when faced with threats such as illegal logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, mining, and charcoal production, all of which are destroying their environment.
Then there's the poaching. Christoph Schwitzer, the chief zoological officer at the Bristol Zoological Society, told the BBC, a trend for unsustainable lemur poaching is on the rise. Not only is this encouraged by the exotic pet trade but a taste for bushmeat, which extends all the way up to the commercial level.
"We see commercial hunting as well – probably for local restaurants. And this is a new phenomenon for Madagascar – we didn't see it at this scale 15 years ago," Schwitzer added.
Take the example of the utterly bizarre-looking ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), whose numbers hovered around the 750,000 mark at the turn of the millennia. Now, reports Newsweek, that figure has dropped 95 percent. This means there are just 37,500 King Juliens currently scrambling through the Madagascan forests.
The good news is that it is not too late to save the lemur. They are a resilient bunch that wildlife officials hope will rebound quickly, as soon as conservation actions are put in place. The bad news is that if they don't, it won't just be the primate and wildlife tourists who suffer. Experts view lemurs as a "barometer of ecological health", affecting the entirety of the ecosystem around them.
The purpose of the research was to streamline conservation efforts and iron out their priorities. Already, the IUCN is launching a "lemur action plan", which involves everything from direct measures such as protecting their habitats to less direct initiatives like ecotourism programs. And once the research has cleared the peer-review process, the IUCN Red List will be updated to mirror the findings.
Now, to cheer you up, here's a video of a dancing lemur.