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Sunday Species Snapshot: Alaotran Gentle Lemur

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Alaotran Gentle LemurA primate that lives only in wetlands? That alone makes the Alaotran gentle lemur unique. But this tiny lemur lives in incredibly limited constrained habitat, which continues to shrink around it.

Species name: Boy, this one has a lot of names, including the Alaotran gentle lemur, Alaotra reed lemur, Lac Alaotra bamboo lemur and Lake Alaotra gentle lemur. In the Malagasy language, they are known as bandro. Scientifically they are either Hapalemur alaotrensis or Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis, as scientists are still trying to figure out if this lemur is its own species or a subspecies of the much more common eastern lesser bamboo lemur.

Where found: The marshlands around Lake Alaotra, Madagascar’s largest lake, where—despite the word “bamboo” in so many variations of their name—the lemurs subsist upon papyrus, reeds and grasses. Their entire habitat totals about 100 square kilometers.

IUCN Red List status: Critically endangered due to their extremely limited range and continuing population declines. The most recent count, conducted way back in 2004, put the lemur’s population at 5,000 individuals, down from 7,500 to 11,000 a decade earlier.

Major threats: Habitat loss and hunting. The lemurs are eaten or sold into the pet trade, while much of their marshy habitat has been converted into rice fields. Some reed habitats have been burned to increase fishing. Reed burning is also used as a hunting technique. The lemur is protected under Madagascar law, and some of its habitat was conserved in 2003, but that has appears to have offered little relief.

Multimedia: You can catch a few seconds of these lemurs, including a mother and her child, below:

Notable conservation programs: The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has a captive breeding and research program in conjunction with several other zoos. Durrell also has an education program in Madagascar which aims to increase local interest in preserving the lake and its marshland.

Photo by Jon Mountjoy via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

Previous Sunday Snapshots:

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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