Lemurs, long-tailed, furry mammals related to monkeys, are probably the most endangered group of vertebrates (animals with backbones) on Earth, conservationists with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) have reported. The IUCN, also known as The World Conservation Union, is a federation of government and private conservation organizations that works with countries and organizations around the world to save rare plant and animal species from extinction. Lemurs live in the wild only in the island countries of Madagascar and Comoros, which lie off the southeast coast of Africa. At a workshop in Madagascar, IUCN conservationists classified 23 of the 103 known species of lemur as critically endangered, the highest threat level. In 2008, the IUCN had reported that 8 species were critically endangered. Altogether, 91 percent of lemur species are currently in danger. As a result, these primates are more threatened than any other species of mammal as well as any species of reptile, amphibian, bird, or bony fish, according to the IUCN.
Ring-tailed lemurs have distinctive rings of black and white fur on the tail. Unlike other lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs spend most of their time on the ground rather than in trees. (c) Tom Nebbia, The Stock Market
A poor country, Madagascar in recent years has been wracked by political upheaval that has severely limited government efforts to protect the tropical forests where the lemurs live. Conservationists cited both widespread illegal timber logging and an increase in hunting for bushmeat as reasons for the lemur’s accelerating decline. About 90 percent of Madagascar’s original forests, which once covered most of the island, have been cut down. The island’s lemurs and other tree-dwelling animals now survive in scattered sections of the surviving forests, mostly near the coast.