Entrepreneur and adventure-seeker Sir Richard Branson wants to import endangered lemurs to one of his two private islands in the British Virgin Islands (B.V.I.), giving them a safe haven from the political unrest and habitat destruction on their native Madagascar. But scientists and conservationists aren't exactly hopping with pleasure over the plan.
Operating under the auspices of his Virgin Unite nonprofit, Branson plans to bring 30 ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) from zoos in Sweden, South Africa and Canada to the B.V.I.'s Moskito Island in the next few weeks. Ring-tailed lemurs are listed as "near threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
"Here on Moskito Island we've got a beautiful rainforest," Branson told BBC News. "We brought in experts from South Africa, and they say it would be an absolutely perfect place where lemurs can be protected and breed."
If the relocation is successful, Branson says he would later bring endangered red ruffed lemurs (Varecia rubra) and sifakas (genus Propithecus) of an unidentified species.
Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission told BBC News that the plan was "pretty weird" and asked "what else lives on the island, and how might they be affected?"
The island is home to numerous birds and reptiles, which could be easy pickings for the omnivorous primates, who happen to love eating eggs. Branson told The Telegraph that the lemurs might "take the odd gecko." But James Lazell, president of The Conservation Agency (TCA), told the paper that the lemurs were more likely to wipe out the island's population of dwarf ground geckos (Sphaerodactylus parthenopion), one of the world's smallest lizards. "Lemurs are agile, dexterous, aggressive, omnivorous animals that could have a detrimental effect on these simple island ecologies," Lazell said. TCA previously worked to successfully reintroduce flamingos to the B.V.I.
Other scientists and conservationists warned that the lemurs should be kept in enclosures, could carry disease or could swim to nearby islands. Branson says the lemurs don't like water, will be fully inoculated, and will have vets on hand to take care of them.
The B.V.I. government has already approved Branson's plan.
Branson purchased the 120-acre Moskito Island in 2007 with a plan to turn it into a solar- and wind-powered eco-resort. He is currently building several ecofriendly luxury homes on the island.
Photo: Ring-tailed lemurs by Jean-Louis Vandevivre via Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons license