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New Hope for Rare Lemurs in Madagascar

A survey of a remote forest area in Madagascar turned up seven new groups of silky sifaka, a critically endangered lemur threatened by habitat destruction. The finding raises hope that the species—which is listed as one of the world's 25 most endangered primates—is surviving in Marojejy National Park despite an outbreak of illegal rosewood logging in 2009 and 2010.
The seven week expedition was led by Cornell University's Erik Patel, who heads SIMPONA, a non-profit organization that aims to protect the silky sifaka and its habitat. Patel's team has found 31 silky sifaka groups consisting of 131 total individuals in Marojejy National Park in the past few years. SIMPONA was joined in the most recent survey by Madagascar National Parks, Madagascar's protected areas authority.

"I am encouraged by our latest survey results," Patel told mongabay.com. "Our latest survey region had been heavily impacted by illegal rosewood extraction in 2004/5 and 2009/2010. It was a relief that we did not find any active rosewood logging."

"We are all just grateful that Marojejy National Park remains so much calmer than Masoala National Park, for example, where illegal rosewood logging continues at a high level."

Adult female silky sifaka with six-week-old. Photo by Jeff Gibbs.
The survey, which assessed 24 square kilometers of rugged terrain, counted 23 individuals among the seven groups. Patel said the number is relatively low given the area assessed, but noted that the silky sifaka has "patchy" population distribution, making it difficult to extrapolate the total population for the species. He says more surveys are needed to "firm numbers" on the total number of silky sifakas remaining, but cautions that despite the new discovery, the species is very much imperiled.

"Silky sifakas are one of the rarest animals on earth and it is shocking to consider how few remain," he said, noting the species does not survive in captivity.

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