I sat among 60 lemur specialists on the eleventh floor of a top class hotel in Madagascar -- the only country where lemurs are found in the wild -- to judge lemurs for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The scores were shocking. Madagascar, one of the richest places on earth for unique species is in the midst of a lemur holocaust. More than 90 percent of the 103 species are in severe danger of disappearing from this Earth forever. Why the crisis? Since a political coup in 2009, laws are not being enforced and illegal logging, fires to turn forests into charcoal and hunting of lemurs is rampant throughout much of Madagascar.
There are points of light: havens where lemurs are safe. Ranomafana National Park is one of those, a place where we researchers had dug in for decades, working together with the people, the local governments, the national park service. My thoughts flashed back two days to the ceremony where hundreds of village elders, children, officials, scientists had gathered at Centre ValBio to celebrate a new building, a symbol of hope. I came to this forest 26 years ago, and discovered a new species of lemur. We had started our battles with timber exploiters then, and in 1991 the forests became a national park, then a UNESCO world heritage site. We were there for the long term. Tourists began to come to see the lemurs, and the local economy boomed. Centre ValBio offered 85 local families jobs but more than jobs -- schools, better health, reforestation, handicraft training, and music -- all in one package. We are in this for the long term and that makes a difference.
Lemurs are valuable to the local people because lemurs mean a better economy. But it is more than that. We received a Commander National Medal of Honor last Monday, and I say "we" because hundreds of people had worked together to save that forest. The local mayor, the park manager, the gendarmes, the tourist guides, the Centre ValBio staff, we had teamed together to provide food and clothes when the cyclone wreaked disaster last January, we had built the handicrafts mall in the center of Ranomafana, we had planted out thousands of trees for reforestation together. We had celebrated nature and lemurs with the top bands in Madagascar, Ambondrona, Tarika Be, Jerry Marcoss. Day by day for 26 years we have been saving lemurs, and now when the problems run rampant, we continue to join together to save the resource that makes Madagascar special for the whole world. The 13 species of lemurs within Ranomafana National Park are safe, at least today. But it is a constant, day by day, struggle, a long term presence working with a big vision to save the wildlife, to save a precious bit of nature found no where else on Earth but Madagascar.
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