Heading into the jungles of Madagascar in search of the world's rarest lemur—the greater bamboo lemur (Prolemur simus)—was a gamble that paid off, said Damian Aspinall of The Aspinall Foundation. An expedition of scientists from the foundation, Conservation International (CI), Association Mitsinjo, and GERP (Groupe d'Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar) searched hundreds of miles of Madagascan forests and found evidence that the bamboo lemur lives in at least 11 sites previously unknown to science.
For a species that was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1980s, and whose population was previously estimated at fewer than 100 animals in the wild, this discovery is a victory and "another milestone in saving one of the world's most threatened primates," said Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, in a prepared statement.
The new sites could host an additional 30 to 40 greater bamboo lemurs—not a huge amount, by any means, but enough to boost population estimates by 30 percent, which isn't bad.
Lemurs throughout Madagascar are on the decline, due to the nation's political unrest as well as legal and illegal exploitation of forests for lumber. The greater bamboo lemur completely relies on the giant bamboo tree for its food, a predilection that has earned it the nickname "Madagascar's panda," but the trees have been overexploited, according to CI.
"This is an extraordinary success for our efforts to save the species," said GERP's Jonah Ratsimbazafy in a prepared statement. "It should put nature conservation back on the agenda in Madagascar, after recent lawlessness and a surge in illegal logging within national parks, which risked annihilating previous conservation successes."
Image: Greater bamboo lemur, via The Aspinall Foundation