The Startling Number of Lemurs Being Kept as Pets is Hurting Efforts to Save Them

Conservationists have known for a while that the future survival of lemurs is in serious question, but now they’re looking at another problem threatening these adorable primates: a startling number of them are being kept as pets in Madagascar.

Despite efforts to protect these imperiled creatures, a new study from Temple University just published in the journal Oryx has raised concerns that the pet trade is impacting a variety of lemur species, which could be driving them closer to extinction and threatening conservation efforts to save them.

Researchers surveyed over 1,000 households across 17 cities and villages about lemur pet ownership over the course of three months and found that an estimated 28,000 were being kept as pets over the past three years.

Kim Reuter, a doctoral student at Temple University and lead author of the study explained in a statement that even though keeping lemurs as pets is illegal there’s not enough enforcement of the laws in place to protect them, stating that, “You see it everywhere; even government officials and the people who are supposed to be enforcing the ban on pet lemurs own them.”

Reuter, who also helped create the Lemur Conservation Network and is part of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group, added that even though many are aware of the problem, conservation efforts have typically been focused on other threats, such as deforestation and hunting.

Over the past few years political and economic chaos in the region has further threatened their chances of future survival. Not only did the turmoil cause international funding for conservation programs to drop off, but it killed tourism and left the area open to mining, slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging in parks and protected areas, particularly for rosewood and ebony trees, which is destroying the tropical forest habitat in Madagascar – the only place in the world lemurs are found in the wild. Poverty in the area has also helped drive a growing bush meat trade for lemurs.

This past summer, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updated its Red List of Threatened Species that offered a bleak outlook, confirming that 94 percent of lemurs are threatened with extinction. Of the 101 lemur species left, 22 are listed as Critically Endangered, 48 are Endangered and 20 are Vulnerable. According to the IUCN, this makes them “one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates on Earth.”

“We’ve been spending millions of dollars on lemur conservation in Madagascar, but despite spending all this money, no one has ever quantified the threat from the in-country pet lemur trade,” said Reuter. “If we’re spending these millions of dollars there to preserve these species, we should actually examine all the threats facing lemurs.”

Lemurs aren’t just worth saving because they’re cute and fascinating, but also because they’re a keystone species and keeping them protected is vital not only to them, but also to maintaining healthy ecosystems in Madagascar.

“Now that we know that lemur pet ownership is happening, and happening at this scale, it’s an issue that we can’t ignore anymore,” Reuter said, adding that lemur pet ownership must be factored into future conservation efforts.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

73 comments

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

This is so sad, so discouraging.... All humans' fault! Lemurs are among my 5 top favorite animals :(

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Angev GERIDONI
Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

ANOTHER THREAT on Petropolis animals, they need again your help
to stop a project of a vivarium for laboratory. You know what's
happened to the horses in the streets outside, imagine for pets in cages. Please sign the new petition here :
STOP Petropolis vivarium project
☞ Read more, and help our fight on : Facebook

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Axa T.
Axa T3 years ago

Signed, thank you!

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Thank you for sharing, petition signed

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Kansas Millhimes
Kansas Millhimes3 years ago

A wild animal is a wild animal, and it's cruel to keep it locked away from it's natural roots. The pet trade for exotic animals has always been a problem all over the world, and not just for lemurs. If the problem isn't addressed with a higher degree of seriousness there won't be anymore wild animals. Whether it comes down to poaching, habitat destruction, or the pet trade; the only way you're going to see a "wild" animal is in the zoo...Or your neighbor's house.

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Sheri D.
Sheri D3 years ago

Wild animals should not be pets.

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Carol Johnson
Carol Johnson3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik3 years ago

Thank You for sharing

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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