Conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society have been given funding for more research to help save critically endangered lemurs in the wild.
The news comes as World Lemur Day (Oct 30) seeks to highlight the plight of these animals which are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The support has come from Beyond Good, a US company which produces chocolate from cocoa plantations in Madagascar, the only country where lemurs are found in the wild.
It means research started by Bristol Zoological Society conservation scientists four years ago can enter a second phase.
Experts from Bristol Zoological Society have already discovered that lemurs are living in shade trees in the cocoa plantations. The next step, which will continue until the end of 2021, is to encourage the lemurs to move between the plantations and neighbouring forests to develop larger populations and increase the size of their home range.
To do that conservationists may need to build artificial trees or other structures to help bridge the gap and allow lemurs to move between the plantations and the forests.
Dr Amanda Webber, Lecturer in Conservation Science at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “The funding from Beyond Good means we can now go ahead with this next stage.
“We want to create structures the lemurs can use to bridge the gap and help them reach the forest whilst we begin reforestation in this area.”
Lemurs are at risk because their natural forest home has been cut down or lost through fire and they now have limited places where they can live. So the work involving Bristol and Malagasy scientists, where 908 per cent of lemur species face extinction, is crucial.
Dr Sam Cotton, also a Lecturer in Conservation Science at Bristol Zoological Society, has been working with a Malagasy team on reforestation to help replace trees that have been felled for agriculture.
His team has had considerable success in growing saplings and it is hoped to plant these to help establish natural corridors for the lemurs.
Depending on travel restrictions Dr Webber and Dr Cotton are hoping to return to Madagascar and work with their Malagasy counterparts soon.
Dr Webber said: “It’s not going to be easy but I do feel there’s a lot of hope.”
Tim McCollum, founder and CEO of Beyond Good, which produces chocolate at origin in Africa, said: “In working with cocoa farmers in Madagascar, we learned cocoa farms play a big role in lemur conservation.”
“The findings are exciting as they suggest that some species of these highly threatened animals can live in human-dominated areas and cacao could be an example of a crop that, when grown sustainably, has the potential to benefit wildlife and people.”
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