- One species of lemur has only 18 individuals left
- Illegal logging and hunting contributes to the disappearance of the animals
- A conference of experts is developing an action plan over the next couple of days
Well-known among youth as the ring-tailed critters singing "I like to move it, move it" in DreamWorks' "Madagascar" or the white-and-brown puppet host of the PBS show "Zoboomafoo," lemurs are a fan favorite.
But leading conservationists announced Friday that the wide-eyed and bushy-tailed primates are the most threatened mammals in the world.
In fact, one of the 103 species of lemur -- the northern sportive lemur, distinct for its bulging amber eyes -- has only 18 known individuals left.
About 60 experts met in Madagascar's capital this week for a workshop of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission. Madagascar is the only place on Earth to which lemurs are native.
The results of the workshop were "quite a shock," Christoph Schwitzer said in a news release issued by Conservation International. Schwitzer is the head of research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, a conservation and education charity as well as zoo, on Britain's west coast.
"They show that Madagascar has, by far, the highest proportion of threatened species of any primate habitat region or any one country in the world," he said.
"We now believe that lemurs are probably the most endangered of any group of vertebrates," he said.
The wildlife and landscape of Madagascar have significantly changed since scientists last assessed lemurs in 2005, said Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.
A coup overtook the government in 2009 and there isn't much "law and order," he said.
The area isn't dangerous or volatile, he said, but the news release states that "political uncertainty has increased poverty and accelerated illegal logging" and that lemur hunting is "a more serious threat than previously imagined."
Nearly 90% of the island's natural vegetation has already been lost, the statement said. It said habitat loss is the primary cause of the animals' decline.
Mittermeier said the remainder of the conference will be spent devising an action plan.
There are likely to be 30 to 40 projects addressing the issue with a total budget of $5 million to $10 million over the next three years, he said.
"Not very much to save an entire forest and population," he said.
There was one positive finding, the release said: the discovery of a new species of lemur. The species, thus far unnamed, was discovered by Peter Kappeler and his team from the German Primate Center.