Known only to Tsingy de Bemaraha region of western Madagascar, north of the Manambolo River this stunning small primate is classified as endangered soon to be re-categorized as critically endangered. We humans should be damned ashamed ourselves regarding the Africa’s declining mammal life. Africa and Madagascar once held an abundance of wildlife. Walk through the bush today and one may not even view a single large mammal for some days.
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Identified and named in “2005” its actually quite hard to fathom that this species is already classified as endangered with species population size on the vast decease. PD Dr. Thomas Geissmann and Dr. Urs Thalmann whom is a Biologist are two of the most intelligent and unique Biologists and Primatologists alive today. Specializing in old and new world species studies their work has been published in many science journals detailing their current and past finds.
Named after John Cleese the British actor famed for his comedy drama (Faulty towers, Monty Pythons Flying Circus and an award winning film 1989 A Fish Called Wanda) the Avahi cleesei species is commonly refereed to as Bemaraha Woolly Lemur or John Cleese’s Avahi. Dr. Thomas Geissmann and Dr. Urs Thalmann named the species in 1995 after John Cleese mainly because of Cleese’s fondness for lemurs, as shown in Operation Lemur With John Cleese and Fierce Creatures, and his efforts at protecting and preserving them. (Please view the film above post).
Populations are decreasing on the African island of Madagascar of which the species was discovered in 1990 via scientists from Zurich University. The species was formally then named in 2005. Strangely populations seem to be more densely populated within disturbed habitats giving reason to believe that the species is or has become quite adapted to humans. Evidence clearly indicates that (some) lemurs of certain genera seem quite “fond” to a degree of human invaders. This however must not be seen as a positive thing.
The northern limit of its range is unclear and there is no evidence of its occurrence between the Sambao and Mahavavy Rivers or between the Mahavavy and Betsiboka Rivers. Currently, it is known only from within Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, where it has been sighted in two localities, in the forest of Ankindrodro a forest 3 – 4 km east-northeast of the village of Ambalarano at the base of the western Tsingy precipice.
The species was previously outside the reserve’s boundaries in 1994, in the heavily disturbed forest in the surroundings of the village of Ankinajao. However, the forest was completely destroyed since these sightings at Ankinajao, and no woolly lemurs have been found there since 2003 – grid references have been removed for mammal security and to remove temptation via poachers for bush-meat.
Dr Thalman and Dr Geissmann noted that the disturbed forest close to the village of Ankinajao (outside the park), which supported a substantial number of individuals in 1994, had been cut completely by 2003. The subhumid forest at the base of the escarpment of the Tsingy de Bemaraha is under continuous pressure from bush fires that reduce it in many places every year–in some places to only a few meters in width. Such subhumid forests are the only habitat in which Avahi cleesei is known to occur so far. Although bush-meat trade has not been formally recorded with regards to “this particular species” the erosion of traditional cultural taboos in Madagascar has led to an unsustainable number of lemurs being killed for bush-meat.
Locals revered the primates, believing that the animals were family ancestors, but the influx of outside influences has seen a breakdown in these views. Some species do not reach maturity for up to nine years and produce offspring once every two or three years. A survey of locals’ eating habits by researchers from Bangor University in Wales, and the Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy showed that hunting of protected species in eastern Madagascar was increasing. They suggested the rise in illegal hunting was the result of rapid social change, an increase in demand for meat and a decline in traditional taboos.
What seems to be happening in some of the remote areas around the nation’s eastern rainforests is that a lot of legal gold mining is springing up, so people from outside are moving into the area thus increasing poaching and furthermore habitat degradation. Taboos play an important part in Malagasy culture, lemurs, especially indris, have been associated with very strong taboos that traditionally ensured that the primates were not hunted.
For example, one story tells of a man who was looking for honey in the forest when he fell from a tree. Before he hit the ground, he was caught by an indri. He was so grateful that he went back to the village and said from that moment on, no lemur was to be harmed. One can view the indri lemur here – First picture downhttp://www.npr.org/2013/02/02/170849125/did-you-hear-that-i-think-it-was-the-sound-of-a-walrus
Another belief is that the creatures are ancestors that became lost in the rainforests and turned themselves into lemurs in order to survive. However, Dr Jones said that although people did not prefer to eat bush-meat, it was often the only meat available. If they want meat to eat, there is very poor availability of domestic meat in these rural areas, which is a common fact even on the continent of Mama Africa.
Chickens suffer terribly from disease in rain-forest areas, so do not survive that well – so there is not much protein from domestic animals around. Dr Jones explained that the influx of people, attracted by job opportunities at the mines, had led to an increase in demand for meat and because people had wages from the mines, small bars that sold bush-meat were opening.
When Interviewed the results were quite shocking!
1. The survey of 1,154 households showed that the majority of meals eaten over a three-day period did not contain any meat at all.
2. Among the meals that did contain meat, the preference was for fish or domestic animals rather than bush-meat.
3. Just under 10% of meals consisted of wild-caught animals, and just 0.5% contained meat from protected species.
SHOCKING EVEN MORE – when respondents were asked if they had ever eaten a protected species, 95% said that they had. They know the species is “endangered” yet “still continue” to place it at risk from bush-meat trade.. International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa has been documenting in the vast scale of the bush-meat crisis however we are very concerned with regards to these findings. Either attitudes have to change within the trade of bush-meat, increased overseas conservation projects seen, or we are sadly going to lose the vast majority of our primate and non-primate species by 2040. Avahi cleesei sadly may not even be around then.
When the team monitored villages to see how much bush-meat was being brought in, they recorded 233 carcasses of Endangered indri, the largest species of lemur. Species like the indri, for example, mature at seven to nine years and then only have one young once every two or three years. Primates, in general, are known to be extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation. Should conservation efforts now not reduce the bush-meat trade, awareness and education from local environmental companies, and non-profit organisations/charities then regrettably were going to lose the majority of our lemur species within the next decade regardless of whether they are consumed on rare occasions.
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Located west of the island of Madagascar Avahi cleesei weighs about 5–6 kilograms (11–13 lb), has brown skin with white regions on the rear and inside of the thighs and has a short damp nose, large plate eyes, and ears which hardly stand out from the skin. It typically has a strictly vegetarian diet of leaves and buds, living together in small families. The local population calls the species dadintsifaky, which means “Grandfather of the Sifaka”, because it is similarly sized to sifakas, but more ponderous, heavyset and has ample greyish-brown fur.
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