My favorite part of this article is the three lemur photos. You do not want to mess with that first lemur! But the second lemur looks like someone you might feel comfortable taking home to meet your mother. The third looks like a ninja jumping off a rooftop.
Madagascar’s lemurs – the world’s most threatened primate – could be saved from extinction by eco-tourism, conservationists say.
The big-eyed fluffy creatures are unique to the island but their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years.
Now researchers have unveiled a survival plan that combines tourism with increased conservation efforts.
Political turmoil has enveloped Madagascar following a coup in 2009. As a result of the instability, illegal logging has increased on the island, a source of valuable rosewood and ebony trees.
Due to a lack of environmental policing, the habitat of the lemurs has been under constant threat and the primates are now one of the most endangered groups of vertebrates on the planet.
The team propose that cashing in on Madagascar’s unique lemur “brand” would help the animals and poor rural communities.
Dr Christoph Schwitzer from the Bristol Zoological Society has been working in Madagascar for more than a decade. He said that tourists had still been flocking to the island, despite the political instability.
“There’s always a trade-off between the destruction caused by too many tourists and the money they bring to the country that can be used for wildlife conservation,” he told theBBC’s Science in Action programme.
“This balance for Madagascar is still very positive for conservation and it’s a long way until it may tip over.”
I don’t like that last quote. It sounds like it means something, but, when you think about it, its meaning is totally unclear. What does it mean for a balance to tip over? Anyway…
Conservationists point to eco-tourism in Rwanda and Uganda where visitors are willing to pay a premium to observe endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Other aspects of a new three-year emergency action plan include increasing the number of long-term research field stations and building up conservation programmes.
These could help reduce another threat to lemurs, the illegal hunting of the primates for bushmeat.
Managing forests for multiple uses is an interesting problem studied by many environmental economists. This article mentions 3 benefits of Madagascar forests: it’s valuable (1) for its trees (rosewood and ebony), (2) for its habitat for lemurs for tourism, and (3) for its habitat for lemurs so they can be hunted for bushmeat. In general forests are often also valuable for things like nature tourism (people like to go for walks in forests, for example, even if there aren’t lemurs), their help in maintaining the health of aquifers, and for acting as a carbon sink.
In this case, the lemur is highly threatened. In economics we learn that people’s preferences tend to exhibit diminishing marginal utility. For example, that first slice of pizza you eat is really delicious, the third slice is good, but you don’t get as much enjoyment out of it as the first, and the sixth slice might even make you feel sick if you eat it. One implication of diminishing marginal utility is that we tend to value something more when we have less of it. Since lemurs are highly threatened, we’d tend to assume that we are willing to incur a greater cost, for example in forgone profits from harvesting and selling timber, than if lemurs were more abundant.
I just recently saw a preview for a Disney movie (documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman) coming out later this year in IMAX theaters about lemurs. They look hilariously entertaining.