Sir Richard Branson Sparks Lemur Relocation Controversy

Sir Richard Branson, the British business titan behind the Virgin Group, has sparked controversy among conservationists and environmental groups over a plan to import lemurs to his private isles in the British Virgin Islands. Lemurs are native to Madagascar, where they are being threatened by deforestation and a government that turns a blind eye toward illegal logging. Branson claims the relocation will benefit the lemur population by presenting a new breeding habitat.

Via BBC News:


“Here on Moskito Island we’ve got a beautiful rainforest – we brought in experts from South Africa, and they say it would be an absolutely perfect place where lemurs can be protected and breed,” Sir Richard told BBC News.


Moskito (also spelled Mosquito) Island is one of two that Sir Richard owns in the British Virgin Islands. Several luxury houses, including one for the boss of the Virgin business empire himself, are being built on it. His other island is Necker, home to an eco-tourism resort where a stay is priced at around $2,000 (£1,200) per day.

Ring-tailed lemurs and red-ruffed lemurs are two of the species Branson intends to relocate. Both are on the Red List of Threatened Species, and Branson hopes that lemurs bred on Moskito and Necker can one day be reintroduced to the wild in Madagascar. Branson’s plan has been approved by the British Virgin Islands government and the lemurs will be transported from zoos in South Africa, Sweden, and Canada. The first group of lemurs are scheduled to be moved at an unspecified date in the next few weeks.


Activist Concern

But activists are concerned about the lemurs’ potential impact to native wildlife. Releasing a non-native species into the wild in a different continental region is unprecedented. Critics of Branson’s plan, including Dr. Christoph Schwitzer, a Primate Specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, are concerned that the lemurs will damage the two islands’ ecosystem. They warn that environmental damage like that caused by the introduction of rabbits and cane toads to Australia is one grim, but possible outcome of the lemur relocation.


Branson’s idea that the lemur population born on his islands could eventually return to Madagascar is certainly admirable, but there are captive breeding programs working toward this same goal that don’t pose a danger to other wildlife.


According to the IUCN, “the damage done by harmful introductions to natural systems far outweighs the benefit derived from them.”


Dr. Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN, suspects the project might violate the IUCN’s code for translocations. According to Dr. Schwitzer, the lemurs should be kept in close confinement on the islands:


Via BBC News:


“The project would only be acceptable if he intended to keep them in a controlled environment – that is, in some kind of fenced-in enclosure where they cannot become a problem to the native fauna and flora,” [Dr Schwitzer] said.


[H]e warned that there could be impacts on local wildlife.

While some species of lemur are faithful to a diet of fruit, others will grab whatever is around, including lizards and other small animals.

“There may be birds nesting, and if there are some of the lemurs would attempt to predate on their eggs – or there may be small invertebrates that they’d go for,” said Dr Schwitzer.

Necker and Moskito Island are home to reptiles such as the stout iguana, the turnip-tailed gecko and the dwarf gecko that local conservationists have identified as being of specific concern.

Branson asserts that if the lemurs begin to impact native plants or animals, efforts would be made to control them. Hopefully, he isn’t underestimating the lemurs’ tenacity. Introducing a non-native species is much easier than removing one, as wildlife experts have discovered in Australia. Branson’s lemur relocation plan should be halted until the IUCN and other experts can further assess the situation.


Click here to petition the Government of the British Virgin Islands to revoke their approval of Sir Richard Branson’s lemur relocation plan.


Photo credit: JD Lafontaine


Carrie Anne Brown

Signed, thanks for sharing this article =]

marc r.
marc rosati6 years ago

You so-called environmentalists make me sick!!! All you do is prattle about the ecology of one small island while the lemurs are in serious danger of extinction. If Sir Richard wants to do something about it then GOOD FOR HIM!!! It's one hell of a lot more than you're doing. it's his island!!! let him do what he wants with it. Maybe someday HIS lemurs will be the only ones left on earth since none of you seem to be interested in solving the problem in Madagascar I say I'm willing to sacrifice one small island if it gives lemurs a chance to survive.

Liz Simpson
Liz Simpson6 years ago

Most of the best points have been made in the comments below, and as a resident of a state that has had disastrous introductions of non-native species, I am supremely against such a naive, over simplified idea. Dear Sir, your heart is indeed in the right place but, gobs of money make not an expert of all things.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Sounds like his heart is in the right place. Just hope he can be humble enough to accept advice from knowledgeable people and put his money to use in areas that are crying for it.

Christine S.

Like Lil Judd and Julia already said- buy some land in Madagascar and preserve the lemurs in their natural habitat!

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y6 years ago

Lemurs are not particularly hardy and I think Branson is overestimating their tenacity, if anything. They are certainly not as tough or quick to reproduce as wild rabbits or mongooses. In any case these are already captive specimens from zoos so they will have to be closely managed. I agree with Dr. Schwitzer, they would have to be kept in enclosed areas both for their own good and to protect the local fauna.

The problem in Madagascar is human population growth and deforestation on a massive scale. It is one of the major crisis zones on the planet. Topsoil is being washed away into the Indian ocean in tons per day, as the native flora is decimated from forest canopy to ground level. Impoverished people cut it down for fuel and building material, and timber interests harvest vast tracts of hardwood in a largely illegal trade. Poaching for food and Oriental markets is rampant, in spite of recent govt. efforts to protect the reserves.

Some of Branson's discretionary cash would indeed be better spent helping international aid and USAID in Madagascar, which is supporting several reforestation and ecotourism programs, but it would be a drop in the bucket.

Shanie M.
Shanie Mangulin6 years ago

Why o' why do multi-millionaires persist in the idea that, by moving endangered populations, the situation is automatically resolved???? Frankly, sir, why not put your $$ to better use by protecting endangered Native species WITHIN their own environments! Or is this far to difficult to grasp! Frankly, sir, the majority of the world is not amused!

Steve M.
Steven M6 years ago

"Yes BVI's fauna is special too, but not irreplaceable like Madagascar's. There are several dozen Virgin Islands, both U.S. and British, and the fauna is not endangered by and large."

Would you like to list the native species that are flourishing?

Martin S.
Abe M6 years ago

noted thank you.

Lil Judd
Lil Judd6 years ago

Lemur can not be compared to the situation in Australia. But I think free reign is not to be allowed. In a perfect world I'd rather see him do everything he can to protect them in Madagascar - that's where they really belong. How hard is it for him to buy up all the forest they inhabit in Madagascar & make it impossible for logging companies to cut more forest down.... That's what I'd do if I had his money.