Fulfilling the shared dream of biologists the world over, I went to Madagascar in pursuit of our enigmatic cousins. The island’s long isolation allowed for unrivalled adaptive radiation of lemurs; resulting in 101 species varying in physiology and behaviour, filling every unexplored niche.
Despite their beauty and richness, lemurs are now the most threatened group of mammals on the planet; 91% of all known lemur species are classified as endangered by the IUCN. All lemurs are endemic to Madagascar, threatened by the island’s extensive deforestation, live capture for the exotic pet trade and the impending consequences of climate change. Their situation is only made worse by the extreme poverty and political instability in Madagascar; the lawlessness that followed their 2009 political crisis allowed rampant illegal logging and further habitat destruction that continues today. There have been measures to conserve this biodiversity hotspot but this amounts to only 3% of the land surface of Madagascar. The island has lost around 80% of its original forests, and the disturbance-intolerant biodiversity continues to disappear in the confines of the remaining fragmented primary forests, covering only 12% of Madagascar.