Black and white ruffed lemurs, gems in the rough

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The Island of Madagascar can be compared to James Cameron’s film Avatar with unusual interconnected life forms and mineral-rich soils. Just like the fictional planet of Pandora, it is also being mined.

Sapphire mining in Madagascar

The sapphire rush in Madagascar started in 2016, it is alleged that the Red Island produces about half of the world’s high-end sapphires. Madagascar is referred to as the Red Island because of its scarlet soils. The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a rainforest in north eastern Madagascar, has produced more sapphires in six months than the entire country did in 20 years.

Perhaps more precious than the stones, is the relationship between the flora and fauna on this unique island. Madagascar’s geographical isolation means that specialised interconnected life forms have evolved on the island. The loss of Madagascar’s lemurs will have a knock on effect for the vegetation and other Malagasy species. Lemurs, like the critically endangered black and white ruffed lemur act as pollinators and seed dispersers.black and white ruffed lemur

Photo: Frank Vassen

Black and white ruffed lemurs as pollinators

The black and white ruffed lemur is one of the largest pollinators in the world. It is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, threatened by slash and burn agriculture, mining, logging, bushmeat and catastrophic events like tropical cyclones.

Its diet consists of fruit and nectar, making it the unintended gardener of the rainforest.  It is one of the known predominate pollinators of Madagascar’s iconic traveller’s palm. Weighing 3-4kg, it is large enough to be a seed disperser for some of Madagascar’s larger trees. The lemurs ingest the seeds of the trees and deposit them on the forest floor.

The last remaining strongholds for the black and white ruffed lemur are Ranomafana National Park, the small island of Nosy Mangabe and the Antanamalaza region of Madagascar.

Lemur reintroduction into Betampona Nature Reserve

The black and white ruffed lemurs dwell in loose groups and are threatened with low genetic diversity.  In the late 1990s the Duke Lemur Center in partnership with the Madagascar Fauna and Flora Group (MFG), released three captive bred groups of black and white ruffed lemurs into Betampona Nature Reserve to strengthen the genetic integrity of the population in the late 1990s.

Five Facts about black and white ruffed lemurs

  1. Ruffed lemurs live in the upper quadrants of the rainforest canopy
  2. Fossa: their only natural predator
  3. The red ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra) also forms part of the Varecia genus
  4. Along with the red ruffed lemur, the black and white ruffed lemur is the largest living member of the Lemurinae
  5. They are the only primate that hides their young in nests while they forage

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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