Lemurs and their hopes for survival

The main threats are deforestation and poaching, both of which have increased in recent years

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Lemurs and their hopes for survival

Lemurs live in the wild only on Madagascar and a few small surrounding islands, including the Comoros. This is because in the rest of the world they were replaced by monkeys and other primates, while in Madagascar the lemurs did not undergo any type of competition and were therefore able to differentiate into many species.

Many species of lemurs are now considered at risk of extinction by the scientific community. The main threats are deforestation and poaching, both of which have increased in recent years. The online database of the IUCN organization, the international union for the conservation of nature, in fact identifies 98 species of lemurs as threatened, in particular: 1 extinct, 20 vulnerable, 3 potentially threatened, 3 minimally threatened, 47 endangered, 22 critically endangered .

Given the growing concern for endangered species, there are many initiatives to safeguard and relocate these primates to nature reserves, born in recent years; among these, also eco-tourism organizations.

Lemurs and their hopes for survival

Lemurs are mainly nocturnal and omnivorous animals, i.e.

with a mixed insectivorous and frugivorous diet: the larger species, on the other hand, tend to have diurnal and more herbivorous habits. The lemurs are prosimians and as such forming part of the suborder Strepsirrhini, which they share with the Lorisiformes occupying their own infraorder.

Traditionally they are thought to have evolved during the Eocene, even if the molecular clock would suggest that they appeared earlier than this date, probably during the Paleocene. Until recently, a close relationship between Lemuriforms, Lorisiforms and Adapids was taken for granted, mainly based on similarities of phenetic character, elongated snout with rhinarium, rather low encephalization quotient, presence of auditory bulla: alongside morphological similarities, however, the Adapids lacked some key synapomorphies of the Lemuriforms, such as the dental comb or the toilet claw, present instead in the Lorisiforms and in the current tarsi, while they show some typical characteristics of the real apes, fused mandibular symphysis, presence of four premolars .

However, the evolutionary history of these animals remains very enigmatic, as there is a lack of fossil records that provide exhaustive data on kinships with other ancestral lines of primates. The African fossil sites dating back to periods useful for this purpose are in fact very small and have so far provided only fragmentary finds.

Suffice it to say that the oldest lemur remains found in Madagascar are not fossils, but subfossils dating back to the late Pleistocene.