Lemurs are adorable creatures, with their big eyes and social tendencies. At the same time, they are the world’s most endangered primates—and the practice of keeping them as pets is threatening the survival of many lemur species. Although having a pet lemur is illegal, new research sheds light on how commonly these animals are kept in captivity.
Biology researcher Kim Reuter estimates that there are about 28,000 lemurs being kept as pets in Madagascar, where these species of primates are native. Reuter's findings, based on household surveys, are published in the conservation journal Oryx (full text here).
Reuter said she is the first to attempt to quantify the country’s domestic lemur trade. Over the course of three months, Reuter conducted over 1,000 household surveys in 17 cities and villages. She argues that this threat has been largely overlooked in conservation efforts, which have focused on preventing deforestation and hunting.
“You see it everywhere,” said Reuter in a press statement. “Even government officials and the people who are supposed to be enforcing the ban on pet lemurs own them." Many of these animals are captured from the wild, often by the people who keep as pets.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 24 species of lemur listed as "Critically Endangered," 49 are "Endangered," and 20 are "Vulnerable." As least 14 species have fewer than 10 thousand individuals.
Reuters, who was recently appointed to the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Primate Specialist Group, argues that more regulation, enforcement and outreach can help counter the problem of illegal pet ownership. "Now that we know that lemur pet ownership is happening, and happening at this scale, it's an issue that we can't ignore anymore," she said.