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Last hope for lemurs: scientists develop a plan to protect lemurs in Madagascar from extinction.

To locals, lemurs called silky sifakas (shee-FAH-kuhs) are known as the "ghosts of the forest." The bone-white animals live in Madagascar, an island off the coast of Africa (see map, p. 7). They have long, silky fur and seem to flash through the forest as they leap from tree to tree.

Silky sifakas are almost unknown to the outside world. But they're in trouble. Habitat loss and hunting threaten their fragile population. Scientists believe that fewer than 1,000 silky sifakas remain in the wild.

Unfortunately, other types of lemurs are in danger too. More than 100 species of lemurs live in Madagascar. Most of them are at risk of extinction.

Now, a team of scientists has come up with a plan to help save the animals. They're working with local communities to set up safe areas for lemurs to live.

Some of the sites will be open to visitors from around the world. The money these tourists bring in could help protect lemurs--and support the people of Madagascar too.

Lemur Land

Madagascar is often called the Island of Lemurs. That's because many different kinds of these fuzzy, big-eyed primates live there. In fact, it's the only place on the planet where lemurs live in the wild.

Lemurs range in size from as small as a mouse to as large as a human toddler.

"Each species is unique," says Patricia Wright. She's a lemur expert at Stony Brook University in New York. She's worked with the animals in Madagascar.

The largest type of lemur, the indri, is known for its distinctive call. Indris communicate with loud howls that can be heard over a mile away.

Other lemurs, like sifakas, are famous for how they move. On the ground, sifakas don't walk on all fours. Instead, they stand on their back legs and hop to the side with their arms in the air.

Cute habits like these make lemurs a popular sight for tourists. But people have also caused trouble for the animals.

Primates in Peril

Over the past few decades, the human population of Madagascar has grown. Forests where lemurs live have been cut down for lumber or to make room for farms. Many people in Madagascar also hunt lemurs for food, even though it's illegal.

Madagascar is a poor country with a troubled government. The authorities don't always enforce laws meant to protect wildlife. As a result, more than 90 percent of lemur species are now endangered.

Christoph Schwitzer is a conservationist with the Bristol Zoological Society in England. He's leading the new project to protect lemurs. "If we don't act now," he says, "we risk losing [lemur species] for the first time since our records began."

Taking Action

Madagascar is famous for its biodiversity (see Rare Creatures, p. 5). Despite the country's political problems, people from all over the world travel there to see its rare animals in their natural environment.

Lemurs are already the biggest tourist attraction in Madagascar. Now scientists want to build on people's interest to help the animals.

Schwitzer and other conservationists are working to protect about 30 critical wildlife sites in Madagascar. These places would be guarded against illegal logging and hunting. Lemurs and other animals could live there safely.

People who live in Madagascar would help manage the protected sites and look after the wildlife. They would also lead tours of the areas to attract more visitors. The money tourists brought in would help the local people and support conservation efforts too.

Similar sites have already had success in Madagascar. On the eastern part of the island, an area called Maromizaha Forest is home to at least 13 different types of lemurs. Several years ago, it was protected and opened to tourists. Locals work as tour guides and caretakers for the forest.

The project has made money for the community. It's also helped prevent deforestation so lemurs don't lose their homes.

Schwitzer thinks the success of Maromizaha is a good sign for his project: " [It] shows how well people can work together when species are on the brink." Wright is hopeful too. "If we work hard to save these lemurs," she says, "we can do it."

words to know

extinction--when the last of an animal or plant species dies

primate--an order of animals that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes, and humans

endangered-close to becoming extinct

biodiversity--the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment

deforestation-cutting down all the trees in an area

Rare Creatures

More than three quarters of the animal species in Madagascar exist nowhere else on Earth. Here are some of the unique creatures that call the island home.

The comet moth is known for its pair of long red tails. The tails can grow up to 15 centimeters (6 inches) long.

The cat-like fossa is the top predator in Madagascar. It eats everything from mice to pigs--and lemurs.

The colorful rainbow frog is critically endangered. Thousands are captured to be sold as pets each year.

The tiniest-known chameleons in the world were found in Madagascar in 2007. Young ones fit on the tip of a match!

Lemurs like these silky sifakas are critically endangered in Madagascar.

Mouse lemurs like this one are the smallest primates in the world.

A baby ring-tailed lemur clings to its mom to get around.

Patricia Wright works with brown lemurs in Madagascar.

Sifakas like this one hop across the ground on two legs. They look like they're dancing!

Where Lemurs Live!

Madagascar is the only place on Earth where lemurs live in the wild. Scientists are working to protect important parts of their habitat.

Lexile Level 840; Guided Reading Level R OBJECTIVE

Learn how and why scientists are planning to protect lemurs in Madagascar.

SETUP

Obtain a timer.

BEFORE READING

1. Divide class into two teams. Assign two people from each team the role of "writer" and "speaker."

2. Give teams 30 seconds to record as many different names as they can of plants and animals beginning with a certain letter. Encourage unique plants and animals.

3. Write the letter B on the board and call out, "Go!" After time is up, have speakers (one at a time) give names from their list. If the teams have the same name listed, both teams must cross it out. Repeat this step with the letters I, O, D, V, E, R, S, T, and Y

4. Tally the number of names not crossed out for each team. The team with the most left wins.

5. Explain that the letters you used make up the word biodiversity. Have students read the definition of biodiversity in the Words to Know list on page 5.

AFTER READING

* What are the two main reasons lemurs are threatened? (habitat loss and hunting)

* How do scientists plan to protect lemurs? (Scientists are setting up safe sites for lemurs to live in and tourists to visit.)

RESOURCE

Watch videos about biodiversity at: http:// savingspecies.org/2011/top-35-biodiversity-videos/

READING AND LITERACY CONNECTION

Go to www.scholastic.com/superscience to download the skills sheet "All the 'Write' Reasons." Students identify the author's purpose after reading five short passages.

Common Core State Standard Reading Informational Text: 6
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Title Annotation:life science
Author:Smith, Natalie
Publication:SuperScience
Geographic Code:6MADA
Date:Jan 1, 2015
Words:1194
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