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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Diminutive, but not disappeared: Rare dwarf lemur rediscovered 100 years after last sighting

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Sibree's dwarf lemurLast week, we told you about some of the bad news in Madagascar, a nation whose political troubles have created a thriving illegal economy for rare wildlife species. But here's some good news from that same country: a species of lemur not seen in 100 years has been rediscovered.

Scientists have long believed that the Sibree's dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus sibreei) went extinct following the destruction of its only known forest habitat. But a few years ago Mitchell Irwin of McGill University in Montreal and his research team encountered some dwarf lemurs that didn't quite look the way they expected the species to appear. Two lemurs were caught, their DNA tested, and the Sibree's dwarf lemur was revealed.

This is actually the first confirmation that the Sibree's lemur is truly its own species. The species looks almost identical to the Crossley's dwarf lemur (C. melanotis), with which it shares its habitat. The research proving its morphological uniqueness was published online March 6 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Irwin and his team may have found this "new" lemur just in time. "Without the recognition provided by this study, this species probably would have gone extinct in the near future," he said in a prepared statement. "Protecting its only known population and determining how many individuals are left are now top priorities, especially since much of this region's forests have already disappeared."

Photo: Sibree's dwarf lemur, courtesy of McGill University

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

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